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Self-assembled nano-sized probes allow Penn researchers to see tumors through flesh and skin

Nano-sized particles embedded with bright, light-emitting molecules have enabled researchers to visualize a tumor more than one centimeter below the skin surface using only infrared light. A team of chemists, bioengineers and medical researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota has lodged fluorescent materials called porphyrins within the surface of a polymersome, a cell-like vesicle, to image a tumor within a living rodent. Their findings, which represent a proof of principle for the use of emissive polymersomes to target and visualize tumors, appear in the Feb. 7 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"We have shown that the dispersion of thousands of brightly emissive multi-porphyrin fluorophores within the polymersome membrane can be used to optically image tissue structures deep below the skin ?with the potential to go even deeper," said Michael J. Therien, a professor of chemistry at Penn. "It should also be possible to use an emissive polymersome vesicle to transport therapeutics directly to a tumor, enabling us to actually see if chemotherapy is really going to its intended target."

This work takes advantage of years of effort in the Therien laboratory focused on the design of highly fluorescent compounds. Polymersomes, which were developed by Penn professors Daniel A. Hammer and Dennis Discher in the mid-1990s, function much like the bilayered membranes of living cells. Whereas cell membranes are created from a double layer of fatty phospholipid chains, a polymersome is comprised of two layers of synthetic co-polymers. Like a living cell, the polymersome membrane has a hydrophobic core. The study shows that the fluorophores evenly disperse within this core, giving rise to a nanometer-sized light-emitting structure.

"These polymers are also larger than phospholipids, so that there is enough space for the fluorophores, which are larger than the average molecule
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Source:University of Pennsylvania


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