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Some materials are special not for what they contain, but for what they don't contain. Such is the case with metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) – ultra-porous structures that are being developed for a variety of future applications from fire-proofing to drug-delivery.
MOFs are, in fact, the most porous materials known to humankind. One metal-organic framework, so-called NU-110, has such a large surface area that just one gram of it could be unfolded to cover one-and-a-half football fields.
Surface - Area - Result - Components - Metal
That huge internal surface area is a result of the atomic components – metal atoms linked together by organic molecules, forming a cage-like structure. It is by tinkering with the chemistry of these cages, and by inserting different objects inside them, that scientists are able to contemplate so many different applications.
"By judicious choice of the metals and linker molecules, there is a huge number of materials that can be prepared with properties designed for specific needs," said Dr. Ross Forgan of the University of Glasgow in the UK, who is exploring metal-organic frameworks for cancer drug-delivery.
Chemotherapy - Drugs - Tissue - Tumour - Side
Most chemotherapy drugs end up affecting healthy tissue as well as the tumour, hence the well-known side effects of nausea, kidney damage and hair loss. To try and solve this, some 'passively targeting' treatments are based on nanoparticles in order to capitalise on the fact that tumours are better than normal cells at retaining nanoparticles.
Dr. Forgan's goal is to go one better and actively target tumours. Cancer drugs can be loaded into metal-organic frameworks, while the MOFs themselves can be designed to specifically latch on to tumours.
Targeting - Drugs - Door - Tumour - Side
Active targeting means that all the drugs end up at the door of a tumour, so generating fewer side effects. It also means doctors can apply drug treatments that are usually too powerful to consider.
"Metal-organic frameworks don't accumulate," said Dr. Forgan. "Once they have delivered...
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