Near-IR plasmonic contrast agents for molecular imaging, cell tracking and clinical translation
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Gold nanoparticles attain an intense focus in biomedical imaging applications due to their unique optical properties, facile conjugation with biomolecules, and biocompatibility. Although a considerable amount of work towards the development of gold nanoparticles has been completed, these promising contrast agents have not yet reached the clinic due to several challenges including efficient accumulation at the diseased site, sensitivity of detection in vivo, potential adverse effects, and clearance from the body. High signal-to-background ratio is required to enhance sensitivity of detection. Because near infrared (near-IR) light has the best tissue penetration, contrast agents designed to work in this range can significantly increase imaging sensitivity. Moreover, efficient targeting of the molecular biomarkers on diseased cells can decrease the required dosage, increase the site-specific accumulation, and enhance the imaging sensitivity. Molecular-specific contrast agents developed in this project use directional attachment of antibody molecules to the nanoparticle surface, enhancing the targeting efficacy. Additionally, cell-based delivery of diagnostic and therapeutic agents is gaining much interest due to the immune cells’ special access to the avascular, diseased regions. The contrast agents developed in this project enable detection of just a few cells per unit of imaging volume, enable multiplex imaging, and open up a possibility for tracking different cell populations with noninvasive photoacoustic and ultrasound imaging. Finally, the clearance of nanoparticles from the body dictates their clinical translation. The in vivo pharmacokinetics study along with the proposed in vitro model explored in this project will enable fast, reliable, and cost-efficient screening of promising agents and facilitate quick optimization of nanoparticles for their potential use in the clinic.