WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers have demonstrated a new imaging tool for tracking structures called carbon nanotubes in living cells and the bloodstream, which could aid efforts to perfect their use in biomedical research and clinical medicine.
The structures have potential applications in drug delivery to treat diseases and imaging for cancer research. Two types of nanotubes are created in the manufacturing process, metallic and semiconducting. Until now, however, there has been no technique to see both types in living cells and the bloodstream, said Ji-Xin Cheng, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry at Purdue University.
The imaging technique, called transient absorption, uses a pulsing near-infrared laser to deposit energy into the nanotubes, which then are probed by a second near-infrared laser.
The researchers have overcome key obstacles in using the imaging technology, detecting and monitoring the nanotubes in live cells and laboratory mice, Cheng said.
"Because we can do this at high speed, we can see what's happening in real time as the nanotubes are circulating in the bloodstream," he said.
Findings are detailed in a research paper posted online Sunday (Dec. 4) in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The imaging technique is "label free," meaning it does not require that the nanotubes be marked with dyes, making it potentially practical for research and medicine, Cheng said.
"It's a fundamental tool for research that will provide information for the scientific community to learn how to perfect the use of nanotubes for biomedical and clinical applications," he said.
The conventional imaging method uses luminescence, which is limited because it detects the semiconducting nanotubes but not the metallic ones.
The nanotubes have a diameter of about 1 nanometer, or roughly the length of 10 hydrogen atoms strung together, making them far
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