Graphene quantum dots drawn from common coal may be the basis for an effective antioxidant for people who suffer traumatic brain injuries, strokes or heart attacks.
“Their ability to quench oxidative stress after such injuries is the subject of a study by scientists at Rice University, the Texas A&M Health Science Center and the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
Quantum dots are semiconducting materials small enough to exhibit quantum mechanical properties that only appear at the nanoscale.
Rice chemist James Tour, A&M neurologist Thomas Kent and UTHealth biochemist Ah-Lim Tsai and their teams found the biocompatible dots, when modified with a common polymer, are effective mimics of the body’s own superoxide dismutase, one of many natural enzymes that keep oxidative stress in check.
But because natural antioxidants can be overwhelmed by the rapid production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that race to heal an injury, the team has been working for years to see if a quick injection of reactive nanomaterials can limit the collateral damage these free radicals can cause to healthy cells.
An earlier study (“Nano-antioxidants prove their potential”) by the trio showed that hydrophilic clusters modified with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to improve their solubility and biological stability are effective at quenching oxidative stress, as a single nanoparticle had the ability to neutralise thousands of ROS molecules.
“Replacing our earlier nanoparticles with coal-derived quantum dots makes it much simpler and less expensive to produce these potentially therapeutic materials,”
Tour said. “It opens the door to more readily accessible therapies.”
“The results appear in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (“Highly Oxidized Graphene Quantum Dots from Coal as Efficient Antioxidants“).
Image: Rice University chemist James Tour holds coal and a vial of coal-derived graphene quantum dots. The dots have been modified for use as an effective antioxidant. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University