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GRATA is a FISR 2019 project recently funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research. Aim of the project is the development of Graphene Quantum Dots based nanoplatforms for the detection and treatment of solid tumors, followed by in vitro and in vivo biological studies.

It is a two years-project and it has started on February the 1st, 2021. The research activity will be carried out by the University of Messina (DIMED, Engineering, CHIBIOFARM, BIOMORF Depts.) in collaboration with the CNR Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems of Catania Headquarters (Dr. Silvia Scalese and Dr. Mario Scuderi) and the Department of Health Sciences of the University of Genova.


The aim of the GRATA project is to produce and use graphene quantum dots (GQD) as smart nano-sized systems for anticancer drugs delivery. Nano-sized systems in drug delivery are used to overcome the limitations of many conventional anticancer drugs and shows improved safety profile and enhanced antitumor efficacy when compared with the free drugs. Among the different classes of suitable nanomaterials, graphene quantum dots, the next generation of carbon-based nanomaterials, shows outstanding physical, chemical and biological properties.

GQD are fragments of single- or few-layer of two-dimensional graphene with small lateral dimensions (≤10 nm), large surface/volume ratio, size-dependent photoluminescence and versatile surface functionalization.  They show low toxicity, chemical inertness, water solubility and biocompatibility, which make them ideal nanocarriers for drug delivery, diagnostics, near-infrared (NIR) light-induced photothermal therapy and in vitro and in vivo bioimaging.

These nanomaterials can be loaded with anticancer drugs and labeled with tumor-targeting ligand units that are able to specifically recognize cancer receptors exposed on the cancer cell surface by generating new therapies that are able to allow a more efficient targeted delivery of anticancer agents while minimizing their distribution in healthy tissues.

Moreover, GQD undergo heating under NIR laser irradiation, thus increasing cancer therapy efficiency. In addition to their extraordinary chemical and physical properties, their size-dependent photoluminescence (PL) properties and stable strong intrinsic fluorescence have attracted increasing attention in theranostics, allowing the efficient tracking of human cells in vitro as well as the development of new imaging agents for the in vitro and in vivo diagnosis of several types of cancer.


Start date: February 1st, 2021

Duration: 2 years

Coordinator: Prof. Alessandra Bitto (University of Messina)

CNR-IMM Unit Coordinator: Dr. Silvia Scalese

Partners: University of Messina, CNR-IMM Catania, University of Genova