A theranostic method of cancer treatment could be created from the common rose periwinkle, report scientists at IIT RoorkeeBy Anila Mathew Vivek
As cancer remains a leading cause of death in India, it has become imperative to increase awareness about screening methods and symptoms. Most cancer deaths happen due to a fatal delay in diagnosis. NGOs are working towards dispelling myths about the disease and trying to highlight the importance of checkups and screening by conducting free cancer detection camps and other programmes.
The treatment and even screening to check for the terminal illness can incur high costs, thus leaving a sizeable percentage of the population at risk of ignoring the disease until it is too late. In a positive development, researchers at IIT Roorkee have discovered a sustainable and economical method of detecting cancer. The commonly found plant, Catharanthus roseus, better known as the Madagascar periwinkle, rose periwinkle, or rosy periwinkle, is already quite well-known for its medicinal properties. A species of flowering plant belonging to the dogbane family Apocynaceae, its roots and shoots have been effectively used in Ayurveda for treating several illnesses. The Chinese school of medicine also utilizes it for the treatment of diabetes, malaria, and other diseases.
So far, the detection of cancer was being done by using quantum dots or nanometer-sized semiconductor crystals that have unique photochemical properties. However, these quantum dots use toxic metals that are quite expensive to produce. These metals also break down when exposed to light, which results in side effects, and may perhaps alter the expression of specific genes. A team of researchers comprising Dr P Gopinath, Dr. Uday Kumar, and Dr. Bharat Bhushan has discovered that quantum dots can be substituted with fluorescent carbon nanodots. They were supported by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Union Ministry of Science and Technology. C-dots that can be used in diagnosis and treatment were synthesized from the leaves of the periwinkle plant.
In a hydrothermal process, a solution of finely chopped, rosy periwinkle plant leaves was heated under controlled conditions to yield nanometre-sized, luminescent carbon particles. These can be used to track biological processes inside cells and are known to be less toxic than other nanotechnology alternatives. These carbon dots are highly biocompatible and biodegradable as well.
“SUCH EVENTS OF REAL-TIME IMAGE GUIDED ANTICANCER THERAPY BY A SINGLE SYSTEM OPEN A NEW PARADIGM IN THE FIELD OF ANTICANCER THERAPY. WITH THESE NANOMATERIALS, WE CAN IDENTIFY THE CANCER CELLS AND TRACK THEM BY AN IMAGING SYSTEM SIMULTANEOUSLY AS THE CELLS THEMSELVES ARE BEING ERADICATED IN A PRECISE ‘SURGICAL STRIKE’.”Dr P Gopinath
The team incubated the embryonic fibroblast cells of a mouse among the carbon nanodot suspensions for a few hours, following which the cells showed fluorescence indicating that the carbon dots had penetrated into the cells. C-dots further disrupted the formation of microtubules that are the initiators of cell division, thus destabilizing the cytoskeletal framework of cells, inducing cytoplasmic constriction that killed the cell itself. Thus C-dots performed both diagnostic and therapeutic functions in the animal studies conducted. Explains Dr. Gopinath, “Such events of real-time image-guided anticancer therapy by a single system open a new paradigm in the field of anticancer therapy. With these nanomaterials, we can identify the cancer cells and track them by an imaging system simultaneously as the cells themselves are being eradicated in a precise ‘surgical strike’.”
Dr. Gopinath and his team plan to start the next stage of animal studies; it will likely take 15 years for the product to hit the market. The team will also conduct studies into factors that affect the performance and use of carbon nanodots in cancer theranostics (therapy as well as diagnostics). The prospective applications of carbon nanodots include identification of metastatic cancer cells, qualitative measurement of specific molecular targets and creation of guide-targeted cancer therapy by enabling biodynamic markers to be propelled towards target cells alone. If the approach is successful in clinical trials it could translate into a low-cost and effective nano-medicine to treat cancer