Schematic of the principles of Ge-Bu-COOH-mediated drug delivery in doxorubicin-resistant cancer cells.
Schematic of the principles of Ge-Bu-COOH-mediated drug delivery in doxorubicin-resistant cancer cells.

Chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment are highly toxic, causing unpleasant or life-threatening side effects. Delivering these drugs in a more targeted fashion could alleviate or avoid side effects, making treatment more effective. Moreover, cancers cells develop resistance to these agents, which makes treatment – particularly when patients relapse – more difficult. A novel two-dimensional material called germanane can now be added to the panoply of promising delivery agents, according to scientists [Fojtu et al., Applied Materials Today 20 (2020) 100697].

“We took a novel material – modified germanane (4-carboxybutylgermanane) – and for the first time investigated its applicability as a carrier for anticancer therapy,” explains Michaela Fojtu of the University of Chemistry and Technology (UCT) in Prague, first author of the study.

While other two-dimensional materials like graphene or black phosphorous have been investigated in a biological environment, germanane or 4-carboxybutylgermanane (Ge-Bu-COOH) has not. The team from the Center for Advanced Functional Nanorobots, UCT Prague, Masaryk University, and Brno University of Technology wanted to explore the material’s biological properties and apply it in biomedicine.

Germanane is a graphene-like group IV semiconductor that can be hydrogenated to form GeH for a range of potential applications from photocatalysis to energy conversion and storage to optoelectronics and sensing. Its large surface area means that germanane also has potential to deliver active agents directly to tumors.

“Germanane serves as a drug carrier transporting the anticancer compound into cells in a targeted manner,” says Fojtu.

The researchers demonstrate this using doxorubicin, a common anticancer agent for a range of solid tumors including ovarian cancer, which can be difficult to treat and often becomes drug resistant. This is the first time that germanene has been used for drug targeting, believe the researchers. The two-dimensional material shows low toxicity for red blood cells, making it feasible for intravenous injection into the body, and has an added advantage.

“Our experiments indicate germanane is actually increasing drug accumulation inside the cell and leading to higher drug efficiency,” points out Fojtu. “[Germanane has] the ability to potentiate the effect of doxorubicin. [It] not only serves as a passive carrier transporting the drug but works with the drug in synergy increasing its accumulation within doxorubicin-resistant cells that would under normal conditions actively pump the chemotherapeutic agent out of the cell.”

The researchers believe that germanane could carry other chemotherapeutic agents and maybe one of many two-dimensional nanomaterials with potential in biomedicine.

“Currently we have several types of nanomaterial, of which germanane is just one, that show favorable properties for cancer therapy,” says Fojtu. “This is part of our decade-long effort on utilization of 2D materials and nanorobots for drug delivery,” adds Martin Pumera, who lead the work.

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