Got honey and microwave? You can cook your carbon nanoparticles: Bioengineering researchers at University of Illinois have found way to produce nanoparticles in a few hours using only a few ingredients, one of which is molasses.

Scientists have used a novel way that how to make nanoparticles at home from ordinary ingredients such as molasses, which could have potential applications in drug delivery and cancer treatment.

Nanoparticles are microscopic particles that have a size between 1-100 nanometers and are smaller than viruses. Large biomolecules such as enzymes are also in the same size scale. For example, the molecule which carries oxygen in red blood cells, hemoglobin, is around 5 nanometers in size.

Because of the small size of nanoparticles they can easily interact with the cells of the body and gain access to many areas inside the body. These properties make them ideal for delivering treatment and detecting diseases. The development of nanodevices is known as nanotechnology.

Carbon nanoparticles are made from carbon and are being explored for numerous applications, including cancer treatment. Bioengineering researchers at the University of Illinois have found a way to produce nanoparticles in a few hours using only a few ingredients, one of which is molasses.

Usually making carbon nanoparticles requires equipment which is expensive and the purification process takes days to complete. But the novel way the scientists have found to manufacture the next generation carbon nanoparticles makes them unique.

“If you have a microwave and honey or molasses, you can pretty much make these particles at home,” says Dipanjan Pan, “You mix together the ingredients and cook it for a few minutes and you get something that looks like char but is actually nanoparticles with high luminescence.”

These carbon spheres have several properties that make them attractive for future applications.

The researchers found that they can scatter light in a way that makes them easy to differentiate from human tissues. This helps eliminate the requirement of adding a dye or fluorescent material to help in detecting them when they are in the human body.

To test the therapeutic properties of these nanoparticles, the scientist loaded an anti-melanoma drug on them and applied them to pig skin by mixing the nanoparticles in a topical solution.

Rather than releasing the drug at room temperature, the scientists found that the nanoparticles released the drug at body temperature. They also experimented to see which topical applications were able to penetrate the skin to the desired depth.

Rohit Bhargava’s laboratory identified the molecular structure of the nanoparticles and the cargo (drugs) they carried.

“This is a versatile platform to carry a multitude of drugs— for melanoma, other cancers or other diseases. You can load it with two drugs or even 3 or 4 so you can do multidrug therapy with the same particles,” Bhargava said.

“This is one of the simplest systems we can think of. It is safe as well as highly scalable for eventual clinical use and we can change the properties easily. We can make the nanoparticles glow at a certain wavelength and we can tune them to release the drugs in the presence of specific cell environments. That, I think, is the beauty of the work,” Pan concluded.

Pan and Bhargava are both faculty members of the department of Bioengineering at the University of Engineering. The findings about how to make nanoparticles at home were reported in the journal Small.