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'Smart' nanoprobes light up disease

Researchers from Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) have developed a "smart" beacon hundreds of times smaller than a human cell that is programmed to light up only when activated by specific proteases. Altered expression of particular proteases is a common hallmark of cancer, atherosclerosis, and many other diseases.

In the September issue of the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, lead authors Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering and director of CBEN's biological research program, and Rebekah Drezek, the Stanley C. Moore Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, describe development of a new nanoprobe for visualization of proteolytic activity in vivo.

"The idea is to develop a 'smart' nanostructure that is dark in its original state but lights up very brightly in the presence of enzymatic activity associated with a particular disease process," said West. "Other groups have used targeted nanostructures including quantum dots for molecular imaging, but they have never been able to adequately solve the problem of clearly distinguishing between the 'cancer is here' signal and the background light which arises from nanostructures not specifically bound to their molecular targets."

Rice's technology solves this longstanding problem by using emissive nanoparticles called quantum dots that give off light in the near-infrared (NIR), a rare portion of the spectrum that has no background component in biomedical imaging. Near-infrared light also passes harmlessly through skin, muscle and cartilage, so the new probes could alert doctors to tumors and other diseases sites deep in the body without the need for a biopsy or invasive surgery.

The probe's design makes use of a technique called "quenching" that involves tethering a gold nanoparticle to the quantum dot to inhibit luminescence. The te
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Source:Rice University


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