NANO RESEARCH 14(3) 674-683 (2021)
Carbon nanomaterials offer excellent prospects as therapeutic agents, and among them, graphene quantum dots (GQDs) have gained considerable interest thanks to their aqueous solubility and intrinsic fluorescence, which enable their possible use in theranostic approaches, if their biocompatibility and favorable pharmacokinetic are confirmed. We prepared ultra-small GQDs using an alternative, reproducible, top-down synthesis starting from graphene oxide with a nearly 100% conversion. The materials were tested to assess their safety, demonstrating good biocompatibility and ability in passing the ultrafiltration barrier using an in vitro model. This leads to renal excretion without affecting the kidneys. Moreover, we studied the GQDs in vivo biodistribution confirming their efficient renal clearance, and we demonstrated that the internalization mechanism into podocytes is caveolae-mediated. Therefore, considering the reported characteristics, it appears possible to vehiculate compounds to kidneys by means of GQDs, overcoming problems related to lysosomal degradation.