A*STAR researchers from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering developed a hybrid metal-polymer nanoparticle that lights up in the acidic environment surrounding tumor cells. It makes use of the principle that, cancerous tumors and the extracellular microenvironment surrounding them, have pH levels lower than that around normal cells. Many research groups have exploited this principle to develop probes that can detect the low pH in tumors using various techniques such as magnetic resonance, optical imaging etc.
Dr. Bin Liu and her team from A*STAR Institute of Materials research and Engineering have based their new probe on polymers that self-assemble on gold nanoparticles. The new probe does not light up at normal physiological pH values, but acidic conditions such as pH 6.5 due to the presence of tumor cells, alter the chemical groups on the surface of the probes and they start fluorescing.
The fluorescent tumor cells were visualized by either whole body imaging or by examining the affected organs after their removal(pic). Due to the non-invasive method of detecting tumor cells, there is a huge potential for using these nanoprobes in clinical settings with human patients. Though the nanoprobes are biocompatible; further toxicity studies, pharmacological profiling of probes and clinical trials have to be done.
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