Series: What’s Healthy About Tea.  #6 of 20

One of the most interesting innovations in tea as a medicine is scientific research manufacturing quantum dots from tea extract to treat illnesses like lung cancer. This microscopic world on the cutting edge of health is discovering that this ancient “medicine”, Camellia sinensis, can be used to replace more toxic materials and more expensive materials. While this is vastly different from discussing the health benefits and sensual pleasures of sipping a cup of tea and having it work on a cellular level in our own bodies, it’s exciting to recognize that scientific awareness of tea has risen to the point where it becomes part of creative problem-solving. This ancient healing plant is helping us reach into an amazing new world of medicine. Additionally, tea extracts are usually manufactured from tea plants and portions of tea plants that are not used to craft the teas we drink, providing additional income for farmers. 

What is a Quantum Dot?

Quantum dots are man-made nanoscale (microscopic) crystals that that can transport electrons. Starting in 2015 we heard a great deal about using this microscopic technology in electronics – especially television screens.

But the applications for medical use are far more interesting. There are applications for both diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, quantum medicine via these microscopic dots has the potential to replace hypodermic injections as a delivery system for medication more efficiently and specifically. 

Alternative medicine practitioners also use the term “quantum healing”, referring to some of their practices. This should not be confused with nano technology and quantum dots.

National Institute of Standards and Technology [Public domain]  Much like in an old tube television where a beam of electrons moves over a phosphor screen to create images, the new microscopy technique works by scanning a beam of electrons over a sample that has been coated with specially engineered quantum dots. The dots absorb the energy and emit it as visible light that interacts with the sample at close range. The scattered photons are collected using a similarly closely placed photodetector (not depicted), allowing an image to be constructed.

Cadmium Sulfide Quantum Dots. Illustration of Nanotechnology by Olga Reukova,  Getty Images 

Why do scientists make them from tea?

Green tea extracts are widely considered to contain healthy antioxidants and polyphenols and have proven to be effective partners in delivering cancer drugs to affected areas. This led the researchers to investigate it as an option to the toxic chemicals being used to manufacture quantum dots. In the scientific paper, Green-Synthesis-Derived CdS Quantum Dots Using Tea Leaf Extract: Antimicrobial, Bioimaging, and Therapeutic Applications in Lung Cancer Cells, the researchers identify three specific areas for their research; bio imaging, antibacterial treatment and apoptosis of cancerous cells in the lung. Searching for a less toxic to create these valuable particles, they combined a tea leaf extract with cadmium sulfate (CdSO4) and sodium sulfide (Na2S). The mixture is incubated to form quantum dots. Their expectation was that the fluorescent glowing qualities of the dots would be useful in the treatment of cancer to help locate and treat tumors. And the microscopic size would allow the particles to penetrate affected tissue more deeply and efficiently. 

Surprising Results Using Tea

The tea component – tea extract – added additional and unexpected results. Not only did it “light up” the lung cancer tumors, but it also inhibited the growth. They were able to penetrate the pores of the cancer cells and kill up to 80% of them. The work that these researchers are doing suggests other applications in healthcare for tea-generated quantum dots. 

Dr Pitchaimuthu outlined the next steps for research:

“Building on this exciting discovery, the next step is to scale up our operation, hopefully with the help of other collaborators.   We want to investigate the role of tea leaf extract in cancer cell imaging, and the interface between quantum dots and the cancer cell.

We would like to set up a “quantum dot factory” which will allow us to explore more fully the ways in which they can be used.”

Swansea University academics who worked on the research: l-r – Dr Catherine Suenne De Castro, Dr Matthew Lloyd Davies, Dr Sudhagar Pitchaimuthu

What diseases are being studied using these tea-produced quantum dots?

Some of the earliest research with quantum dots focused on lung cancer to locate cancer within the organ and also the ability of these microscopic particles to deliver drug therapy accurately to the source of the cancer. Some work has also begun with breast cancer.

But there are also applications using the technology to treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.

In general, treatment of many complex diseases is turning to options that efficiently customize or personalize treatment to meet the unique and specific needs of each patient. This will reduce the need to use the more invasive, shotgun approaches with very toxic drugs. These quantum dots hold many of the keys to makeing this possible. The fact that they can be synthysized with green tea extracts more safely and economically is hugely beneficial.

A transformation towards personalized medicine may help to combat these diseases. For this, identification of disease molecular fingerprints and their association with prognosis and targeted therapy must become available. Quantum dots (QDs), semiconductor nanocrystals with unique photo-physical properties, represent a novel class of fluorescence probes to address many of the needs of personalized medicine. 

Multifunctional Quantum Dots for Personalized Medicine,   Pavel Zrazhevskiy and Xiaohu Gao*


Read More About the Medical Research of Quantum Dots