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NIH recognizes Clemson nanotechnology for molecule tracking

CLEMSON The National Institutes of Health has awarded two Clemson chemistry faculty nearly $1 million to detect, track and image the interior of cells. Jason McNeill and Ken Christensen will receive the $960,000 grant to develop polymer dot nanoparticles for tracking single molecules in live cells.

The development of techniques for following individual molecules within cells is important because scientists could use this technology to determine the bodys defenses against invading viruses and bacteria or how proteins operate within the cell. The technology also could help doctors pinpoint the exact location of cancer cells in order to better focus treatment and minimize damage to healthy tissue. Other possible targets of investigation include plaques and fibrils in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease and mad cow disease.

For the last decade, scientists around the globe have worked to develop and refine highly fluorescent nanoparticles that light up when bathed with laser light, enabling scientists to pinpoint the location of an individual molecule inside a living cell or tissue.

Recently, Clemson chemists developed novel, highly fluorescent nanoparticles called polymer dots that can be attached to individual proteins, DNA or invading microbes. According to chemist Jason McNeill, the polymer dot particles are hundreds or thousands of times brighter than conventional fluorescent dyes.

We were initially interested in developing polymer semiconductor nanoparticles for making inexpensive, highly efficient solar cells and light-emitting displays. When we aimed a laser at the particles in a microscope, we were surprised to see individual particles light up very brightly, said McNeill.

When I heard about these extremely bright particles, my group was very interested in working with Dr. McNeill to push this technology into live cell imaging, said Christensen. Biology is often driven by new discoveries in chemistry and physics and these polymer dots will definitely impact our studies of cellular biology.

The two chemists credit the highly collaborative, multidisciplinary environment at Clemson as a key factor in this new frontier in nanotechnology.

Details of the nanoparticle technology were recently presented at the 2007 national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston and have been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Langmuir and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.


Contact: Jason McNeill
Clemson University

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