A team led by an LSU chemistry professor has developed tiny particles called GUMBOS that could be used for a variety of applications, including destroying cancer cells and drug-resistant bacteria and in solar cells.

Isiah Warner, a Boyd professor in the LSU chemistry department, presented his research Wednesday at the American Chemical Society meeting and expo being held this week in New Orleans. On Tuesday, the ACS presented Warner with an award in analytical chemistry, recognizing his work on GUMBOS and developing other innovative methods during his career.

GUMBOS stands for Group of Uniform Materials Based on Organic Salts. The particles Warner and his team are studying are so small that 100,000 could fit across the width of a human hair.

“The concept is unique,” Warner said during a news conference at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans on Wednesday and broadcast online. “But organic salts have been around since chemistry started.”

Organic salts are formed when an acid containing carbon neutralizes a base. One example of an organic salt is potassium bitartrate, which is formed as wine ferments.

In 2008, Warner and his researchers started using the organic salts and making tiny particles out of them, which they dubbed GUMBOS in honor of Louisiana. They then started using the particles along with other compounds, designing them for specific uses.

For example, researchers coated the GUMBOS with toxic substances and tuned them to be selectively toxic to cancer cells. In lab studies, the GUMBOS destroyed cancer cells and left other cells alone, sparing the healthy tissue. Existing chemical compounds can be used to make the GUMBOS sensitive for the ph level of a site, making them ideal for delivering medication.

Susmita Das, a post doctoral associate on Warner’s team, said developing GUMBOS is “very simple” and “very economic” because it doesn’t involve a lot of steps.

A patent for GUMBOS is in the final stages, and Warner said two spin-off patents are in the works.

“We think GUMBOS have a wide range of applications and not just chemistry and drug delivery,” he said.

Other possible uses could involve determining the molecular weight of a substance and making organic light-emitting diodes.

“We’ve gone far beyond our imagination from what we thought about initially,” Warner said. “And there are a wide array of other areas we haven’t thought about.”