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Nanotubes Made From Plants Could Improve Chemotherapy Treatment

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Researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences took what some would consider garbage and made a remarkable scientific tool, one that could someday help to correct genetic disorders or treat cancer without chemotherapy’s nasty side effects. Wilfred Vermerris, an associate professor in UF’s department of microbiology and cell science, and Elena Ten, a postdoctoral research associate, created from plant waste a novel nanotube, one that is much more flexible than rigid carbon nanotubes currently used. The researchers say the lignin nanotubes – about 500 times smaller than a human eyelash – can deliver DNA directly into the nucleus of human cells in tissue culture, where this DNA could then correct genetic conditions. Experiments with DNA injection are currently being done with carbon nanotubes, as well. “That was a surprising result,” Vermerris said. “If you can do this in actual human beings you could fix defective genes that cause disease symptoms and replace them with functional DNA delivered with these nanotubes.” The nanotube is made up of lignin from plant material obtained from a UF biofuel pilot facility in Perry, Fla. Lignin is an integral part of the secondary cell walls of plants and enables water movement from the roots to the leaves, but it is not used to make biofuels and would otherwise be burned to generate heat or electricity at the biofuel plant. The lignin nanotubes can be made from a variety of plant residues, including sorghum, poplar, loblolly pine and sugar cane.