A Searchlight For Diseased Tissues

Scientists have created nanoparticles that are 20 to 120 times more sensitive than existing disease imaging methods.

AsianScientist (Nov. 20, 2017) – A team of researchers in Singapore have developed highly sensitive semiconductor polymer nanoparticles (SPNs) to track down and lock on to diseased tissues in the body. They published their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The ability to label diseased tissue and image them non-invasively is the goal of disease diagnostics. However, existing molecules often used for labelling are dim and contain rare-earth heavy-metal ions that are toxic to biological cells.

In this study, scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, tailored highly sensitive SPNs to track down and lock on to diseased tissues in the body, such as cancerous cells, sending back near-infrared signals which can be received and interpreted by standard imaging equipment. The SPNs are also organic, biodegradable and contain biologically benign ingredients that are non-toxic.

When exposed to sources such as sunlight, near-infrared light or even light from mobile phones, the SPNs store light energy and emit long-lasting ‘afterglow light.’ Because the SPNs continue self-illuminating and their light intensity decreases by half only after six minutes, scientists and doctors now have more time to view test results.

Alternatively, if illuminated tissue samples are stored at -20 degree Celsius, they can be viewed even after a month, making it convenient for other diagnostic experts to interpret and review the results at a later time.

When tested in mice, their method was found to be 20 to 120 times more sensitive than current optical imaging methods and 10 was times faster in showing up diseased tissues.

“The new polymer nanoagents we have designed and built show a great deal of promise for clinical applications. They can detect diseased tissue much faster than current optical imaging techniques, and are much safer to use,” said Associate Professor Pu Kanyi from NTU’s School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, who led the research team.

The technology can also be used to evaluate the behavior and therapeutic outcomes of drugs in the body, for example, whether drugs induce liver damage as a side effect. Drug-induced liver damage is one of the most common reasons that the US Food and Drug Administration withholds drug approval.

The study took two years and a patent is being filed for the technology. The research team now intends to conduct further trials in larger animal models.

The article can be found at: Miao et al. (2017) Molecular Afterglow Imaging with Bright, Biodegradable Polymer Nanoparticles.


Source: Nanyang Technological University.
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