Anticancer nanomaterials erupting on the surface

Therapeutic nanomaterials for cancer treatment created from fake underwater volcanos

Image credit: Aalto University

Researchers based at Aalto University, Finland, have simulated the volcano-induced chemistry of the ocean in order to develop new nanomaterials. These materials could be used as a tool in therapies for cancer and other diseases.

The Leidenfrost effect is a phenomenon most easily observed while cooking dinner. To check whether a frying pan is hot enough, chefs will often sprinkle water across its surface. If the pan is very hot, water droplets skitter across the surface before evaporating. This is because a liquid close to an object much hotter than its boiling point will produce an insulating layer of vapour above the hot object, preventing the liquid from rapidly boiling off.

This effect is also observed in underwater volcanos. Near volcano gates in the deep ocean, a layer of vapour covers a huge area without rising away from its surface; this causes the molecules in the liquid above to behave unusually.

By recreating the chemistry of an underwater volcano, the researchers were able to develop a new type of nanomaterial. The Leidenfrost effect causes nanoclusters to erupt towards a cooler region, near the surface, creating size-tailored nanostructures of zinc peroxide.

The method allows for the nanomaterials to be synthesised in an environmental friendly manner, without the use of additional chemicals.

“The dynamic underwater chemistry seen in nature is inspiring for the next generation of eco-friendly nanochemistry,” said Professor Mady Elbahri, associate professor of nanochemistry and nanoengineering at Aalto University.

“We demonstrate the Leidenfrost dynamic chemistry occurring in an underwater overheated confined zone as a new tool for customised creation of nanoclusters of zinc peroxide,” he continued.

Having created the zinc peroxide nanoparticles, the researchers then performed a series of initial experiments exploring the impact of the nanoparticles on healthy and on cancerous cells. Peroxides act as a supplier of oxygen, meaning that they have therapeutic uses in treating a range of complex diseases, including cancer.

The researchers’ results, published in Nature Communications, suggest that the nanoparticles have the potential to destroy cancerous cells through various mechanisms, such as by inducing programmed cell death.

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