Nontoxic Nanotech Uses Cinnamon

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A dash of spice makes everything nice, including nanotechnology. Scientists at the University of Missouri have a way to make gold nanoparticles using cinnamon instead of toxic chemicals.

Nanotech has all kinds of potential, including as a tool to fight cancer. Small particles — ones that are much, much smaller than a human cell — can do what chemicals can't. Gold, in combination with active chemicals, turns out to be ideal for targeted cancer treatment and detection. The problem is that making gold nanoparticles involves toxic chemicals.

A University of Missouri team led by radiology and physics professor Kattesh Katti developed a greener alternative. The researchers took cinnamon, mixed it with gold salts in water and successfully produced gold nanoparticles. Sounds kind of like alchemy at first glance, but the scientists found that cinnamon and other kinds of plants contain naturally occurring chemical compounds called phytochemicals.

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Here I was thinking the spice was great for mulled wine, when it turns out to be great at converting metals into nanoparticles. Katti told the university that their ecologically benign nanoparticles "are biologically active against cancer cells."

To study the cinnamon process, the team tested the nanoparticles on mice. They found that cancerous cells took up significant amounts of the nanoparticles, which were then detected with photoacoustic signals. The scientists published their findings in the journal Pharmaceutical Research (abstract) this fall, concluding that their nanoparticles "may provide a novel approach toward tumor detection through nanopharmaceuticals."

I've been as excited about nanotechnology as I have been wary of its potential detrimental effect on the environment. My concern is that we'll be creating more problems in the process of addressing the ones we already have. If Katti and his team can develop their plant-based nanoparticles into a viable option for cancer treatment and detection, they deserve a celebratory cake. A spicy one.

Photo: Cinnamon is the key ingredient for making gold nanoparticles nontoxically. Credit: S. Diddy.

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