IIT Roorkee Professor Dr P Gopinath was recently awarded the GD Naidu award for his outstanding contribution in the field of biomedical nanotechnology. In an exclusive interview with Tanuvi Joe, he discusses about developing an economical and green way to detect and kill cancer cells and how this research can be a milestone in tackling cancer in India
Please elaborate on the process of how you managed to yield nanosized dots thus leading to detection of cancer cells?
We have synthesised fluorescent carbon dots from rosy periwinkle plant leaves that can be used as nanotags for detecting and killing cancer cells. Current cancer-detecting techniques use quantum dots that use toxic metals. They are expensive to produce and break down easily when exposed to light. To develop a safe way to detect cancer cells, we have synthesised carbon dots by heating a solution of finely chopped periwinkle plant leaves under controlled conditions and then cooled it down to room temperature. This process yielded nanosized carbon dots. When incubated with specific cancer cells, the carbon dots entered the cells. These cells showed enhanced fluorescence, indicating that the dots reached inside the cells.
The dots selectively bound to microtubules, filamentous intracellular structures that support cell division and help transport various molecules inside the cells. The dots destabilised the structure of the microtubules, converting them into fragments that accumulated inside the cells. This, in turn, inhibited the normal activity of the microtubules arresting cell division – a key property that makes the dots potentially useful for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells. This is an economical and green way to produce fluorescent carbon dots from the leaves of a common medicinal plant.
What were the previous resources you used to achieve the same result and why was periwinkle the most ideal?
We have also done green synthesis of multifunctional carbon dots from coriander leaves and investigated their potential application as antioxidants, sensors and bioimaging agents. However they are non-toxic and do not kill cancer cells.Rosy periwinkle plant (a common medicinal plant) is already in use in Ayurvedic medicine for treatment of various diseases. Therefore we have selected this particular plant source.
How will this research help in tackling cancer in India?
Therapeutic choices should be affordable and easily accessible in India. Our research aims to develop low-cost efficient anti-cancer therapeutic options. If this nanotag based approach is successful in animal and clinical trials, then it may be a low cost nanomedicine to cure the dreadful disease like cancer. To make this treatment cost effective, we have used easily available common medicinal plant and simple hydrothermal method to synthesis these theranostic (therapy & diagnostic) carbon dots.
Has this technique been put to use in clinics and companies in India?
In India, this plant is already in use as an Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of various diseases. Thus once the efficiency and mechanism of our carbon dots are studied in animal models it can be translated to clinics. We have to understand the complete molecular mechanism and investigate the therapeutic efficiency using animal models before we approach any companies.
Can you share with us some of your other works?
We have also invented a portable nanofibrous membrane to make water clean. We will be filing a patent soon and try to conduct a technology transfer to make this membrane commercially available for use. We have even filed for a patent with respect to the 4D tissue engineering device. This scaffold can closely mimic the in vivo condition which may reduce the use of animal models in vivo studies.