Earthicle: The Design of a Conceptually New Type of Particle
The conception and the steps made in the design of a conceptually new type of composite particle, so-called “earthicle”, are being described. This particle is meant to roughly mimic the layered structure of the Earth, having zerovalent iron core, silicate mantle, and a thin carbonaceous crust resembling the biosphere and its geological remnants. Particles are made in a stable colloidal form in an aqueous medium, involving chemical precipitation and pyrolysis of citric acid in the solution. The effects of various synthesis parameters were studied, including borohydride and oleate concentrations, APTES/TEOS molar ratio, chemical nature of the carbon precursors, and others. XRD analysis confirmed the predominantly zerovalent iron composition of the core, amorphous silica and crystalline iron silicate/silicide composition of the mesolayer, and the carbonaceous, amorphous graphitic composition of the surface coating. The atomically thin carbon shell was also detected as a distinct shoulder on the broad n−π* absorption resonance and the peak at ∼300 nm, a signature of sp 2 hybridized electronic orbitals and the result of the interband π–π* transition characteristic of graphitic structures. The irregularity of the shape of generally round Fe 0 particles has caused the uniformity of the silica shell to be directly proportional to the particle size. The size of the earthicles ranged from 60 to 500 nm depending on the ionic concentration of the precursors and additives. Silica layer effectively prevented the aggregation of the iron core and increased the biocompatibility of the particles. The point of zero charge first increased from the acidic to the neutral range after coating Fe 0 core with the APTES-functionalized, aminated silica shell and then restored its low value after depositing the carboxylated carbonic crust in a charge-reversal process designed to facilitate the formation of core–multishell structures. Tested on K7M2 osteosarcoma cell line and primary kidney and lung fibroblasts, cytotoxicity was cell-line dependent; however, the trend assessed in both planar and 3D cell culture with respect to the three types of particles, Fe 0 , Fe/SiO 2 , and Fe/SiO 2 /C, was general and independent of the cell line. Thus, the pronounced toxicity of Fe 0 alone became neutralized after the silica layer was coated around Fe 0 . The further addition of the carbonic layer reduced the viability as compared to Fe/SiO 2 , albeit in a statistically significant manner only for K7M2 cell line when compared against the untreated control. Cell response also varied depending on the formulation: while some formulations exhibited lethal effects on kidney fibroblasts, were harmless to lung fibroblasts, and boosted the proliferation of K7M2 osteosarcoma cells, other formulations exhibited the opposite behavior despite being similar in terms of their core/double-shell structure. Compared across three different cancerous cell lines, K7M2 osteosarcoma and U87 and E297 glioblastoma, a similar cell-line dependency in response was observed, yet the viability reduction was consistent for all Fe/SiO 2 /C particles, ranging from 80% to 85% of the untreated control. Carbon surface layer, albeit of graphitic structural nature, was of a markedly more viable character than that of nanosized graphene oxide. The viability of lung fibroblasts incubated with Fe/SiO 2 /C particles was reduced in the presence of the alternating magnetic field of 312.75 A/m and 1 MHz, while the viability reduction caused by Fe/SiO 2 /C particles in kidney fibroblasts and K7M2 cells was converted from statistically insignificant to significant, suggesting that the composite particles could be used for hyperthermia treatments, although their properties should be optimized for a more intense effect. A single-cell immunofluorescent analysi
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