Researchers repurpose failed cancer drug into printable semiconductor

October 02, 2019

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Many potential pharmaceuticals end up failing during clinical trials, but thanks to new research from the University of Illinois, biological molecules once considered for cancer treatment are now being repurposed as organic semiconductors for use in chemical sensors and transistors.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Organic semiconductors are responsible for things like flexible electronics and transparent solar cells, but researchers are working to expand their use in biomedicine and devices that require interaction between electrically active molecules and biological molecules.

Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Ying Diao said she was surprised when the two avenues of her research - pharmaceutical development and printable electronics - merged in her lab with the discovery of semiconductorlike features in a well-studied bioactive molecule. The molecule, which inserts itself into DNA to prevent replication, was once explored as a potential anti-cancer agent.

"This convergence of my two research areas was totally unexpected," Diao said. "While examining these pharmaceutical molecules, we noticed that their molecular structures looked much like the organic semiconductors we were working with in the rest of my group."

These molecules, called DNA topoisomerase inhibitors, are flat and contain neatly stacked columns of electrically conductive molecular rings - features that make a good semiconductor. Distinct from a typical semiconductor, these molecular columns are linked together by hydrogen bonds that can move charges from column to column, forming bridges that transform the entire molecular assembly into a semiconductor - something rarely seen before this study, the researchers said.

"These molecules can interact with biological material with high specificity, making them good candidates for use in biosensors," Diao said. "They are also easily printable but will require new solvents because they are chemically different than other organic semiconductors. The fabrication infrastructure is already in place."

The team printed and tested the semiconductors and acknowledge that their efficiency and performance need improvement. Diao said the real excitement regarding this advance will come from the possibility of discovering similar molecules.

"We envision partnering with researchers in machine learning who can train computers to spot the unique characteristics of these molecules," Diao said. "They can mine the vast pharmaceutical databases available today in search of molecules with similar, or maybe even better semiconducting properties."
-end-
The Shen Postdoctoral Fellowship of the School of Chemical Sciences at the U. of I. and the National Science Foundation - Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center supported this research.

Editor's notes:

To reach Ying Diao, call 217-300-3505; email yingdiao@illinois.edu.

The paper "Repurposing DNA-binding agents as H-bonded organic semiconductors" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12248-9

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Related Semiconductor Articles from Brightsurf:

Blue phosphorus: How a semiconductor becomes a metal
Blue phosphorus, an atomically thin synthetic semiconductor, becomes metallic as soon as it is converted into a double layer.

A new method to measure optical absorption in semiconductor crystals
Tohoku University researchers have revealed more details about omnidirectional photoluminescence (ODPL) spectroscopy - a method for probing semiconducting crystals with light to detect defects and impurities.

Medical robotic hand? Rubbery semiconductor makes it possible
A medical robotic hand could allow doctors to more accurately diagnose and treat people from halfway around the world, but currently available technologies aren't good enough to match the in-person experience.

Laser allows solid-state refrigeration of a semiconductor material
A team from the University of Washington used an infrared laser to cool a solid semiconductor by at least 20 degrees C, or 36 F, below room temperature, as they report in a paper published June 23 in Nature Communications.

Scientists create smallest semiconductor laser
An international team of researchers announced the development of the world's most compact semiconductor laser that works in the visible range at room temperature.

Clemson researcher's novel MOF is potential next-gen semiconductor
Clemson professor Sourav Saha demonstrated a novel double-helical metal organic framework architecture in a partially oxidized form that conducts electricity, potentially making it a next-generation semiconductor.

A gold butterfly can make its own semiconductor skin
A nanoscale gold butterfly provides a more precise route for growing/synthesizing nanosized semiconductors that can be used in nano-lasers and other applications.

Scientists pioneer new generation of semiconductor neutron detector
In a new study, scientists have developed a new type of semiconductor neutron detector that boosts detection rates by reducing the number of steps involved in neutron capture and transduction.

Scientists see defects in potential new semiconductor
A research team has reported seeing, for the first time, atomic scale defects that dictate the properties of a new and powerful semiconductor.

Bending an organic semiconductor can boost electrical flow
Slightly bending semiconductors made of organic materials can roughly double the speed of electricity flowing through them and could benefit next-generation electronics such as sensors and solar cells, according to Rutgers-led research.

Read More: Semiconductor News and Semiconductor Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.