Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have been gaining popularity in the scientific circles in the last couple of years given to the extended array of applications in energy, healthcare and fighting climate change, among others. However, their importance has recently become increasingly more visible for the general public as well, as research from Chicago University assesses whether MOFs could aid in radiotherapy treatments for advanced-stage cancer patients.
‘Materials known as metal-organic frameworks hold promise for advances in healthcare, energy and other areas’, starts off strongly a Washington Post article less than a month old.
The piece is built up on research commenced in 2018 at University of Chicago, where the porosity of MOFs is used to amplify cancer treatment while diminishing the side effects of such treatments. While radiation therapy kills cancer cells, the treatment is toxic to the healthy cells and as such can sabotage the process. However, MOFs that can enhance the effect of radiation in the cancerous cells without damaging the healthy ones by trapping secondary particles and photons from the radiation have been created and injected in tumours. Preliminary analyses show that patients treated this way are exposed to 50% less radiation resulting in improved tumor-shrinkage. Other research groups have demonstrated that MOFs can also be beneficial for drug delivery directly into cancer cells and early-stage cancer detection using MOF-based biomarkers.
What can drive the research on MOFs forward?
As porous materials commonly prepared by solvothermal synthesis, MOFs often pose a challenge for traditional X-ray crystallography as their inherent properties do not allow for a recrystallisation,
which makes structural analysis dependent on obtaining suitable single crystals straight from the synthesis.
Being able to use nanocrystalline as synthesized material makes electron diffraction the perfect tool to tackle this problem and determine structures from crystals that are too small even for synchrotron facilities. In recent years, several novel MOF structures have been successfully determined by ED and it could also be shown that this is possible with high accuracy and even additional information can be extracted (e.g. about molecular motions, mixed-metal occupancies or interactions with guest molecules).