New research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) revealed that black phosphorus (BP) nanomaterials with an innate mitosis-targeting mechanism also have anticancer properties.

The new study advances nanomaterials and cancer therapy knowledge, with the effort led by Professor Li Hongchang from the CAS' Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology. It addresses explicitly  whether specific nanomaterials can precisely target a certain organelle or biomolecule. And through it, draw a targeted response. 

Researchers report their latest findings in the article "Intrinsic Bioactivity of Black Phosphorus Nanomaterials on Mitotic Centrosome Destabilization Through Suppression of PLK1 kinase," appearing in the Nature Nanotechnology journal.

A Unit Cell of BP Nanomaterials in the CMCA Spacegroup
(Photo: Martin Uhrin via Wikimedia Commons)

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Using Black Phosphorus (BP) Nanomaterials in Various Biomed Applications

Black phosphorus is a 2D metal-free layered material that has been of significant interest to various fields of study since it was first reported in Nature Nanotechnology in 2014. Also known as phosphorene, the material exhibits interesting and potentially valuable properties such as its distinct 'pleated structures' in layers, an adjustable direct band gap, as well as a host of other characteristics as described in a 2019 review article from the Chemical Engineering Journal.

Other researchers initially explored BP nanomaterials for their potential as a field-effect transistor material. Soon enough, their potential will spread beyond electronics and communications. Various studies have noted its impressive biocompatibility, biodegradability, and its superior drug-loading capacity. It led black phosphorus (BP) to be used in further biomedical studies, such as using advanced BP nanomaterials to aid bone regeneration. A 2020 review in the International Journal of Nanomedicine examined various synthesis methods and applications concerning bone regeneration procedures and therapies.

Discovery of a New Nanobiological Effect from BP Nanomaterials

Researchers noted in their paper that while nanomaterials have been shown promising in various biomedical applications, an incomplete understanding of their molecular interactions hinders them from further inclusion. In the new study, researchers found a novel nanobiological effect caused by BP nanomaterials, where its mitosis-targeting mechanism affects the core of most life, including the cell cycle's centrosome machinery. The centrosome, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, is a cellular structure that affects the cell division process by duplicating and moving to the opposite ends of a cell as it starts dividing. 

The black phosphorus works by destabilizing the mitotic centrosomes by weakening the cohesion among the pericentriolar material, the protein-based material that surrounds the centrioles. The centrioles are organelles with a complex microstructure housed within the centrosome. This makes cells treated with BP nanomaterials demonstrate multipolar spindles, which are spindle formations that are usual characteristics of cancer cells, as well as a mitotic delay. These cells ultimately undergo apoptosis, or programmed cell death often triggered to prevent the further development of unwanted cells.

More specifically, BP nanomaterials bind to the centrosome polo-like kinase 1 or PLK 1. It then drives toward aggregation and, in the process, decreases the centrosome's cytosolic mobility and leaves it unable to bind nor communicate with other centrosomes for activation. This behavior in BP nanomaterials also makes the black phosphorus particle a potential anticancer material, which the researchers demonstrated in tumors in xenografted mice.


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