Nanocomposite particles as theranostic agents for cancer
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The exploration of nanoparticles for applications in medicine has grown dramatically in recent years. Due to their size, nanoparticles provide an ideal platform for combining multiple functionalities and interfacing directly with the biological realm. Additionally, nanoparticles can have physical properties that don't naturally exist in biology. Metal nanoparticles in particular have unique optical and magnetic properties which have driven nanomaterials research. The optical properties of gold nanoparticles and the magnetic properties of iron nanoparticles make them suitable for use as contrast agents in diagnostics and for radiation enhancement in therapeutic applications. The strong optical absorption and scattering and the nature of the conduction electrons of gold particles makes them ideal contrast agents for two-photon microscopy, photoacoustic imaging, and photothermal therapy. The superparamagnetic nature of iron oxide nanoparticles is clearly visible in magnetic resonance imaging, rendering them suitable as whole-body imaging contrast agents. All nanoparticle types can serve as delivery vehicles for drugs consisting of small molecules, peptides, or nucleic acids. This multiplicity of characteristics renders nanoparticles suitable for use in combining diagnosis and therapy, such as using particles to first detect the spatial extent of a cancer, and then to enhance near-infrared radiation in the tissue optical window to induce localized heating of diseased tissue. This combined approach requires both a mechanism of enhanced imaging contrast and a localized therapeutic mechanism, and the studies presented in this dissertation present work both on these aspects. By coating iron oxide nanoparticle cores with gold shells, it is possible to obtain a nanoparticle with both magnetic and optical properties. While individual gold nanoparticles do not absorb light in the infrared, receptor-mediated aggregation and the plasmon coupling effect lead to enhanced optical absorption only in diseased tissue. In addition to exploring these advanced applications, this work presents a fundamental investigation into the stability of gold nanoparticles in biological media. A previously unknown mechanism of gold nanoparticle destabilization and opsonization is presented and supported, along with a technique for reducing this opsonization and greatly enhancing the stability of gold particles in biological applications. This work will provide guidance to future designs of nanoparticle systems.