The medical field is one place that buckyballs appear to have a promising future. C Sixty, Inc., is one of the companies developing medical applications for buckyballs. They are focusing on the ability of buckyballs to act as antiox-idants, counteracting free radicals in the human body.
A free radical is a molecule or atom that has an unpaired electron — which makes it very reactive. An antioxidant is a molecule that can supply an electron and neutralize a free radical. The human body normally has a balance of free radicals and antioxidants; a certain level of free radicals is actually necessary to make your immune system work. However, the level of antioxidants found naturally in your body decreases as you get older. The resulting high level of free radicals roaming around your system could be the cause of certain diseases.
Buckyballs can act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals. When a bucky-ball meets a free radical, the unpaired electron in the free radical pairs up with one of the buckyball's delocalized electrons, forming a covalent bond between the free radical and a carbon atom in the buckyball.
One problem with using buckyballs as an antioxidant is that antioxidants have to be soluble in water to be truly useful as medical applications. Buckyballs are not naturally soluble in water, and therefore not soluble in the bloodstream. (Remember that water makes up about 80 percent of blood.) To make bucky-balls soluble, C Sixty has added a water-soluble molecule to them. This is done by covalently bonding an atom in the water-soluble molecule to one of the carbon atoms in the buckyball.
Bonding an atom or molecule to a buckyball to change the properties of the buckyball is called functionalization.
Merck, Inc., has obtained a licensing option on C Sixty's antioxidant, and is jumping through the various hoops of evaluation and qualification that the government requires before new drugs can be provided to the medical field.
They are going to all this trouble because studies have shown that buckyball-based antioxidants are several times more effective than antioxidants available today. Each buckyball-based antioxidant can counteract several free radicals because each buckyball has many carbon atoms for the free radicals to bond to. Antioxidant molecules currently in use can only counteract one free-radical molecule apiece; they have fewer places to which free radicals can attach themselves.
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