Research Highlight

Nanocomposites to kill cancer

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.143 Published online 27 September 2012

Researchers have designed a new carbon-coated nanocomposite that, when heated using a magnetic field, could kill cancer cells. The researchers produced the carbon-coated nanocomposite using iron carbide and iron oxide nanoparticles and a biopolymer.

This nanocomposite will be useful in producing hyperthermia, a cancer therapy in which high temperatures are used to selectively kill cancer cells within body tissues.

The researchers prepared a carbon-encapsulated nanocomposite of iron carbide and iron oxide nanoparticles by heating alginic acid and iron acetate under an inert atmosphere at high temperature. They produced two samples of carbon-coated nanocomposites using liquid nitrogen-quenching and air-quenching methods.

Next, they investigated the magnetization potential and biocompatibility of these nanocomposites. To investigate magnetization potential, the nanocomposites were exposed to external magnetic fields. The sample produced using liquid nitrogen showed higher magnetic saturation than the sample made using the air-quenching method.

The increase in temperature was substantially higher for the nanocomposite made using liquid nitrogen than the one made by air-quenching. For the liquid nitrogen-based sample, a fast heating rate could be due to the presence of a relatively higher amount of iron carbide.

Both nanocomposite samples proved to be biocompatible when exposed to cervical cancer, breast cancer and normal fibroblast cell lines.

"Besides hyperthermia, the nanocomposites could also be used as drug carriers"," says lead researcher D. Bahadur from the Department of Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.


  1. Sharma, M. et al. Study of carbon encapsulated iron oxide/iron carbide nanocomposite for hyperthermia. J. Magn. Magn. Mater. 324, 3975-3980 (2012)