Due to rapid advancements in nanomedicine over the past decade, cancer therapy is closer than ever to achieving an effective treatment that targets dangerous cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Photothermal therapy is one promising treatment method that injects light-absorbing agents to absorb incoming laser energy and convert it to heat, killing the tumor.

Though many materials may be suitable for photothermal therapy, Dar et al. detailed the advantages of graphene quantum dots (GQDs).

“We reviewed the synthesis and characterization of novel GQDs of varying size, shape, and chemical functionalities,” said author Tanveer Tabish. “We evaluated their biological safety and efficacy in addressing key global health challenges, such as cancer, using photothermal therapeutic modality.”

GQDs boast numerous advantages over other photothermal therapy agents. Because of their small size and biocompatibility, they can finely target cancer cells without endangering healthy cells. They are relatively inexpensive to produce and can be equipped with multiple functionalities for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. GQDs are also fluorescent, which is advantageous for bioimaging. With a high photothermal conversion efficiency and broad absorption spectrum, they require less light exposure to activate.

However, GQDs are not without drawbacks. Though the agents should clear from the patients’ bodies, there are some potential long-term toxicity concerns. The authors also encourage more work investigating how GQDs interact with proteins.

Still, new research shows promising results, especially in combination with other cancer therapies.

“By nature, this is a highly multidisciplinary area,” Tabish said. “We have to break down the barriers across disciplines spanning engineering, biology, medicine, and chemistry in developing novel techniques for cancer therapy.”

Source: “Photothermal therapy using graphene quantum dots,” by Mohammad Suhaan Dar, Tanveer A. Tabish, Nanasaheb D. Thorat, G. Swati, and Niroj Kumar Sahu, APL Bioengineering (2023). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0160324.