A Perspective on Using Organic Molecules Composing Carbon Dots for Cancer Treatment

Nanotheranostics. 2023 Jan 22;7(2):187-201. doi: 10.7150/ntno.80076. eCollection 2023.


Fluorescent Carbon dots (CDs) derived from biologically active sources have shown enhanced activities compared to their precursors. With their prominent potentiality, these small-sized (<10nm) nanomaterials could be easily synthesized from organic sources either by bottom-up or green approach. Their sources could influence the functional groups present on the CDs surfaces. A crude source of organic molecules has been used to develop fluorescent CDs. In addition, pure organic molecules were also valuable in developing practical CDs. Physiologically responsive interaction of CDs with various cellular receptors is possible due to the robust functionalization on their surface. In this review, we studied various literatures from the past ten years that reported the potential application of carbon dots as alternatives in cancer chemotherapy. The selective cytotoxic nature of some of the CDs towards cancer cell lines suggests the role of surface functional groups towards selective interaction, which results in over-expressed proteins characteristic of cancer cell lines. It could be inferred that cheaply sourced CDs could selectively bind to overexpressed proteins in cancer cells with the ultimate effect of cell death induced by apoptosis. In most cases, CDs-induced apoptosis directly or indirectly follows the mitochondrial pathway. Therefore, these nanosized CDs could serve as alternatives to the current kinds of cancer treatments that are expensive and have numerous side effects.

Keywords: Carbon dots; cancer therapy; nanomedicine; natural product; organic compounds.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon
  • Cell Line
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Quantum Dots*


  • Carbon
  • Fluorescent Dyes