Nanoparticles are being developed to perform a wide range of medical uses imaging tumors, carrying drugs, delivering pulses of heat. Rather than settling for just one of these, researchers at the University of Washington have combined two nanoparticles in one tiny package.
The result is the first structure that creates a multipurpose nanotechnology tool for medical imaging and therapy. The structure is described in a paper published online this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
"This is the first time that a semiconductor and metal nanoparticles have been combined in a way that preserves the function of each individual component," said lead author Xiaohu Gao, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering.
The current focus is on medical applications, but the researchers said multifunctional nanoparticles could also be used in energy research, for example in solar cells.
Quantum dots are fluorescent balls of semiconductor material just a few nanometers across, a small fraction of the wavelength of visible light (a nanometer is 1-millionth of a centimeter). At this tiny scale, quantum dots' unique optical properties cause them to emit light of different colors depending on their size. The dots are being developed for medical imaging, solar cells and light-emitting diodes.
Glowing gold nanoparticles have been used since ancient times in stained glass; more recently they are being developed for delivering drugs, for treating arthritis and for a type of medical imaging that uses infrared light. Gold also reradiates infrared heat and so could be used in medical therapies to cook nearby cells.
But combine a quantum dot and a gold nanoparticle, and the effects disappear. The electrical fields of the particles interfere with one another and so neither behaves as it would on its own. The two have been successfully combined on a surface, but never in a single particle.
The paper describes a manufact
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University of Washington