Nanoparticles May Help Detect Cancer

Professor Charles Drain (GC/Hunter, Chemistry) and colleagues have discovered a phenomenon that has long gone undetected in biomedical imaging. Their research could lead to improvements in imaging methods such as PET scans.
Nanoparticles (particles more than 1,000 times smaller than an average human hair) are becoming widespread in medicine, but often only in supporting roles such as carrying and delivering other molecules. In this new study, the investigators discovered that when hit with radiation, nanoparticles give off signals, either as visible light or X-rays.
Their results appear in Nature Nanotechnology.
Drain’s research encompasses a wide sweep of topics in chemistry, from photonic materials for harvesting solar energy to the radiochemistry involved in cancer diagnostics. He and his colleagues were studying the interactions between radiation and nanoparticles that contain heavy elements, such as gold, when they realized what was going on.
In some types of medical imaging, nanoparticles act as carriers for radioactive atoms, which send out the signals that “light up” on scans. The new study explains that when hit with the radiation from its piggybacking atom, a nanoparticle gives off signals too. These signals could add an extra layer of information to medical scan results.
According to Drain, this research could “allow for faster whole-body scans” as well as “precise spatial definition of disease such as tumors during surgery, using luminescence of visible light.”
The investigators demonstrated their new detection methods in mice with cancer. Drain points out, though, that the methods will facilitate the detection of “other diseases that cause malformation of tissues,” such as lupus and brittle bone disease.
In their latest phase of research, Drain and his colleagues are taking advantage of the fact that each heavy element gives off a unique set of X-rays of different wavelengths. Each wavelength provides more information in a scan, like adding more details to a painting. “We can add different elements to obtain a multiplexed imaging material, increasing sensitivity and resolution,” Drain says.
Co-authors include Graduate Center Ph.D. student Qize Zhang and Graduate Center alumnus Travis Shaffer (Ph.D. ’16, Chemistry), now of Stanford University. The CUNY team collaborated with researchers from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Submitted on: DEC 14, 2018

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