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Nanoengineering of carbon and inorganic materials

Led by Dr. Gerard Tobías-Rossell

Cancer is one of the most relevant diseases worldwide because of its incidence, prevalence and mortality. During the past decades, considerable efforts have been devoted to understand the origin of the disease, find early detection methods that could improve the survival rate of cancer patients or develop treatments and devices that could reduce or eradicate cancer. The application of nanotechnology for the rational design of biomaterials is providing alternative solutions to classical treatments, thus expanding the toolbox available for biomedical imaging and therapy. Nanomaterials offer a unique platform to adjust essential properties such as solubility, diffusivity, blood-circulation half-life, pharmacokinetic profile and cytotoxicity. Nanoencapsulation of biomedically relevant payloads into porous materials is of special interest for the development of contrast agents and smart therapeutic systems. Most of our research activity is in the area of nanooncology, by developing nanomaterials for both diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the framework of the ERC Consolidator Grant NEST.

From the wide range of nanomaterials available, our focus is on the exploitation of the unique properties that both, carbon and inorganic nanomaterials offer. When combined, the synergies of both types of materials results in novel or enhanced properties that are of interest not only in the biomedical field but also in other research areas as highlighted below.

Permanent Scientific Researchers

Project Researchers

Research Highlights


Theragnostic nanocapsules - nuclear medicine

We have developed radioactive nanocapsules that allow nuclear imaging in an ultrasensitive manner and lung cancer therapy. Two different strategies have been employed for the preparation of ‘hot’ radioactive nanocapsules. The first strategy consists in the direct encapsulation of radionuclides in their cavities of the carbon nanocapsules. The second strategy goes via the initial encapsulation of a ‘cold’ isotopically enriched isotope (152Sm), which can then be activated on demand to their ‘hot’ radioactive form (153Sm) by neutron irradiation. The use of ‘cold’ isotopes avoids the need for radioactive facilities during the preparation of the nanocapsules, reduces radiation exposure to personnel, prevents the generation of nuclear waste, and evades the time constraints imposed by the decay of radionuclides. A high specific radioactivity (up to 11.37 GBq/mg) has been achieved by neutron irradiation, making the “hot” nanocapsules useful not only for in vivo imaging but also therapeutically effective against lung cancer metastases after intravenous injection. The external surface remains available and can be funtionalized to increase the dispersability, biocompatibility and for targeting purposes. Glycans, peptides and antibodies have been employed in the performed studies. The high in vivo stability of the radioactive payload, selective toxicity to cancerous tissues, and the elegant preparation method offer a paradigm for application of nanomaterials in radiotherapy.

Neutron capture therapy

Neutron capture therapy (NCT) is a high-linear energy transfer form of radiotherapy that exploits the potential of some specific isotopes for cancer treatment, based on the neutron capture and emission of short-range charged particles, which occur at low energies. The nuclear reaction that takes place when some isotopes are irradiated with low-energy thermal neutrons, produces high linear energy transfer (LET) particles suitable for cancer cell eradication. The limited path lengths of the LET particles (5-9 µm) produced in NCT can limit the destructive effects to isotopes that are localized in cells. Thus, conferring high therapeutic precision to this type of radiotherapy. We are developing several nanocarriers with the aim to increase the amount of neutron capture elements that are delivered to cancer cells (patent application 202230271).

Magnetic resonance imaging

Although optical imaging is still the leading imaging modality in laboratory-based biomedical research mainly due to its convenience and low cost, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear imaging are currently the mainstream clinical diagnostic approaches. MRI is already a standard medical imaging technique which offers excellent spatial and temporal resolution, and good soft tissue contrast. In this field, we have combined the outstanding properties of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPION) as positive contrast agents for MRI along with those of carbon nanomaterials, namely graphene and carbon nanotubes that are employed as nanocarriers. The resulting hybrid materials offer high r2 relaxivities in both phantom and in vivo MRI compared to clinically approved SPION. We have also shown that not only the characteristics of the SPION but also the employed nanocarrier might play a key role in the resulting properties. For instance, short carbon nanotubes reveal enhanced MRI properties compared to their long counterparts. We are also exploring the contrast imaging properties of 3D scaffolds of graphene oxide (using a patented technology, WO 2019/158794 A1) bearing SPION.


1D tubular van der Waals heterostructures

The electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional layered materials allow the miniaturization of nanoelectronic and optoelectronic devices in a competitive manner. Even larger opportunities arise when two or more layers of different materials are combined. We have observed that the cavities of carbon nanotubes can be employed for the template assisted growth of inorganic metal halide nanotubes in their interior, thus forming 1D tubular van der waals heterostructures. We have developed strategies that result in a high selectivity toward the growth of such 1D heterostructures. A decrease of the resistivity as well as a significant increase in the current flow upon illumination has been observed in a PbI2@CNT bulk matrix. Both effects are attributed to the presence of single-walled lead iodide nanotubes in the cavities of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which dominate the properties of the whole matrix.

Research Projects

  • Targeted nanohorns for lithium neutron capture therapy, TARLIT
    ERC Proof of Concept Grant, 2023-2024. IP: G. Tobías-Rossell
  • Nanoengineering of radioactive seeds for cancer therapy and diagnosis, NEST
    ERC Consolidator Grant, 2017-2024. IP: G. Tobías-Rossell
  • Engineering complex inorganic materials for energy aplications, ECIME
    Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, 2022-2024. IP: A. Fuertes, G.Tobías-Rossell
  • Graphene reinforce composites for 3D printing technology, 3D-PRINTGRAPH
    MSC-IF, 2016-2020. IP: G. Tobías-Rossell
  • Boron enriched carbon nanomaterials as theranostic agents for biomedical imaging and BNCT, BECMATA
    SO-FUNMAT-FIP, 2017-2018. IP: R. Núñez, G.Tobías-Rossell
  • Development of ultra-sensitive nanotherapeutic anticancer agents for boron neutron capture therapy, NANOTER
    MSC-IF, 2016-2018. IP: G. Tobías-Rossell
  • Nanocapsules for Targeted Delivery of Radioactivity, RADDEL
    ITN, 2012-2016. Network Coordinator and IP: G. Tobías-Rossell. 

Partnerships for Technology Transfer

Selected Outreach Activities

Selected recent publications

  • Selected recent publications

    Neutron capture therapy

    Lithium halide filled carbon nanocapsules: Paving the way towards lithium neutron capture therapy (LiNCT). Gonçalves G.*, Sandoval S., Llenas M., Balleteros B., Da Ros T., Bortolussi S., Cansolino L., Ferrarie C., Postuma I., Protti N., Melle-Franco M., Altieri S., Tobías-Rossell G.*, Carbon. 2023, 208 148-159.

    Theragnostic nanocapsules

    Functionalization of filled radioactive multi-walled carbon nanocapsules by arylation reaction forin vivodelivery of radio-therapy. Gajewska A., Wang J.T., Klippstein R., Martincic M., Pach E., Feldman R., Saccavini J.-C., Tobias G., Ballesteros B., Al-Jamal K.T., Da Ros T., J. Mater. Chem. B.  2022, 10 (1), 47-56.

    Neutron-irradiated antibody-functionalised carbon nanocapsules for targeted cancer radiotherapy. Wang J.T.-W., Spinato C., Klippstein R., Costa P.M., Martincic M., Pach E., Ruiz de Garibay A.P., Ménard-Moyon C., Feldman R., Michel Y., Šefl M., Kyriakou I., Emfietzoglou D., Saccavini J.-C., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., Bianco A., Al-Jamal K.T., Carbon.  2020, 162, 410-422.

    Neutron Activated 153Sm Sealed in Carbon Nanocapsules for in Vivo Imaging and Tumor Radiotherapy. Wang J.T.-W., Klippstein R., Martincic M., Pach E., Feldman R., Šefl M., Michel Y., Asker D., Sosabowski J.K., Kalbac M., Da Ros T., Ménard-Moyon C., Bianco A., Kyriakou I., Emfietzoglou D., Saccavini J.-C., Ballesteros B., Al-Jamal K.T., Tobias G., ACS Nano.  2020, 14 (1) 129-141.

    Non-cytotoxic carbon nanocapsules synthesized via one-pot filling and end-closing of multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Martincic M., Vranic S., Pach E., Sandoval S., Ballesteros B., Kostarelos K., Tobias G., Carbon  2019, 141, 782-793

    Evaluation of the immunological profile of antibody-functionalized metal-filled single-walled carbon nanocapsules for targeted radiotherapy. Perez Ruiz De Garibay A., Spinato C., Klippstein R., Bourgognon M., Martincic M., Pach E., Ballesteros B., Ménard-Moyon C., Al-Jamal K.T., Tobias G., Bianco A., Sci. Rep.  2017, 7, 42605

    Carbon nanotubes allow capture of krypton, barium and lead for multichannel biological X-ray fluorescence imaging. Serpell C.J., Rutte R.N., Geraki K., Pach E., Martincic M., Kierkowicz M., De Munari S., Wals K., Raj R., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., Anthony D.C., Davis B.G., Nat. Commun.  2016, 7, 13118

    Design of antibody-functionalized carbon nanotubes filled with radioactivable metals towards a targeted anticancer therapy. Spinato C., Perez Ruiz De Garibay A., Kierkowicz M., Pach E., Martincic M., Klippstein R., Bourgognon M., Wang J.T.-W., Ménard-Moyon C., Al-Jamal K.T., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., Bianco A., Nanoscale.  2016, 8 (25), 12626-12638

    Filled and glycosylated carbon nanotubes for in vivo radioemitter localization and imaging. Hong S.Y., Tobias G., Al-Jamal K.T., Ballesteros B., Ali-Boucetta H., Lozano-Perez S., Nellist P.D., Sim R.B., Finucane C., Mather S.J., Green M.L.H., Kostarelos K., Davis B.G., Nat. Mater.  2010, 9 (6), 485-490


    Magnetic resonance imaging

    Green and Solvent-Free Supercritical CO2-Assisted Production of Superparamagnetic Graphene Oxide Aerogels: Application as a Superior Contrast Agent in MRI. Borrás A., Fraile J., Rosado A., Marbán G., Tobias G., López-Periago A.M., Domingo C., ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng.  2020, 8 (12), 4877-4888

    Particle size determination from magnetization curves in reduced graphene oxide decorated with monodispersed superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles. Bertran A., Sandoval S., Oró-Solé J., Sánchez À., Tobias G., J. Colloid Interface Sci.  2020, 566, 107-119

    Microwave-assisted synthesis of SPION-reduced graphene oxide hybrids for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Llenas M., Sandoval S., Costa P.M., Oró-Solé J., Lope-Piedrafita S., Ballesteros B., Al-Jamal K.T., Tobias G., Nanomaterials.  2019, 9 (10), 1364

    Novel Fe3O4@GNF@SiO2 nanocapsules fabricated through the combination of an: In situ formation method and SiO2 coating process for magnetic resonance imaging. Lu C., Sandoval S., Puig T., Obradors X., Tobias G., Ros J., Ricart S., RSC Adv.  2017, 7  (40), 24690-24697

    The Shortening of MWNT-SPION Hybrids by Steam Treatment Improves Their Magnetic Resonance Imaging Properties in Vitro and in Vivo. Wang J.T.-W., Cabana L., Bourgognon M., Kafa H., Protti A., Venner K., Shah A.M., Sosabowski J.K., Mather S.J., Roig A., Ke X., Van Tendeloo G., De Rosales R.T.M., Tobias G., Al-Jamal K.T., Small.  2016, 12 (21), 2893-2905

    Magnetically decorated multiwalled carbon nanotubes as dual MRI and SPECT contrast agents. Cabana L., Bourgognon M., Wang J.T.-W., Protti A., Klippstein R., De Rosales R.T.M., Shah A.M., Fontcuberta J., Tobías-Rossell E., Sosabowski J.K., Al-Jamal K.T., Tobias G., Adv. Funct. Mater.  2014, 24 (13), 1880-1894


    1D tubular van der Waals heterostructures

    In vivo behaviour of glyco-NaI@SWCNT ‘nanobottles’. De Munari S., Sandoval S., Pach E., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., Anthony D.C., Davis B.G.,  Inorg. Chim. Acta.  2019, 495, 118933.

    Selective Laser-Assisted Synthesis of Tubular van der Waals Heterostructures of Single-Layered PbI2 within Carbon Nanotubes Exhibiting Carrier Photogeneration. Sandoval S., Kepić D., Pérez Del Pino Á., György E., Gómez A., Pfannmoeller M., Tendeloo G.V., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., ACS Nano.  2018, 12 (7), 6648-6656

    Encapsulation of two-dimensional materials inside carbon nanotubes: Towards an enhanced synthesis of single-layered metal halides. Sandoval S., Pach E., Ballesteros B., Tobias G., Carbon.  2017, 123, 129-134

    Synthesis of PbI2 single-layered inorganic nanotubes encapsulated within carbon nanotubes. Cabana L., Ballesteros B., Batista E., Magén C., Arenal R., Orõ-Solé J., Rurali R., Tobias G., Adv. Mater.  2014, 26 (13), 2016-2021


  • Reviews

    Key Parameters for the Rational Design, Synthesis, and Functionalization of Biocompatible Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles. Florensa M., Llenas M., Medina-Gutiérrez E., Sandoval E.*, Tobías-Rossell G.*Phamatheutics. 2022, 14 (12), 2703.

    Structure of inorganic nanocrystals confined within carbon nanotubes. Sandoval S., Tobias G., Flahaut E., Inorg. Chim. Acta.  2019, 492, 66-75

    Filled carbon nanotubes in biomedical imaging and drug delivery. Martincic M., Tobias G.*, Expert Opin.Drug Deliv. 2015, 12, 563-581. 

  • Books and book chapters

    image021Gil Gonçalves and Gerard Tobias (Editors)
    Nanooncology: Engineering nanomaterials for cancer therapy and diagnosis
    (Springer, 2018). ISBN: 978-3319898773.

    Gerard Tobias, Emmanuel Flahaut. 
    Smart carbon nanotubes
    Smart materials for drug delivery (Royal Society of Chemistry)
    Vol. 2, p. 90-116 (2013). ISBN: 978-1-84973-552-0.

    Gerard Tobias, Ernest Mendoza, Belén Ballesteros. 
    Functionalisation of carbon nanotubes
    Encyclopedia of Nanotechnology (Springer) 
    Part 7, 911-919 (2012). ISBN: 978-90-481-9750-7.