Photoluminescent Graphene Nanoparticles for Cancer Phototherapy and Imaging

Graphene-based nanomaterials are of great interest in a wide range of applications in electronics, the environment, and energy as well as in biomedical and bioengineering. Their unique properties make them generally applicable as prognostic, diagnostic, and therapeutic agents in cancer. In this work, we focused on photodynamic and photothermal therapeutic properties of our previously synthesized carboxylated photoluminescent graphene nanodots (cGdots). The cGdots are ∼5 nm in diameter and excited at 655 nm. Our findings reveal that, upon laser irradiation by near-infrared (wavelength 670 nm) sensitizer, electrons of the cGdots starts to vibrate and form electron clouds, thereby generating sufficient heat (>50 °C) to kill the cancer cells by thermal ablation. The generation of singlet oxygen also occurs due to irradiation, thus acting similarly to pheophorbide-A, a well-known photodynamic therapeutic agent. The cGdots kills MDA-MB231 cancer cells (more than 70%) through both photodynamic and photothermal effects. The cGdots were equally effective in the in vivo model of MDA-MB231 xenografted tumor-bearing mice also as observed for 21 days. The cGdot was intravenously injected, and the tumor was irradiated by laser, resulting in final volume of tumor was ∼70% smaller than that of saline-treated tumor. It indicates that the growth rate of cGdot-treated tumor was slower compared to saline-treated tumor. The synthesized cGdots could enable visualization of tumor tissue in mice, thereby illustrating their use as optical imaging agents for detecting cancer noninvasively in deep tissue/organ. Collectively, our findings reveal that multimodal cGdots can be used for phototherapy, through photothermal or photodynamic effects, and for noninvasive optical imaging of deep tissues and tumors simultaneously.