Emory University scientists have for the first time used a new class of luminescent "quantum dot" nanoparticles in living animals to simultaneously target and image cancerous tumors. The quantum dots were encapsulated in a highly protective polymer coating and attached to a monoclonal antibody that guided them to prostate tumor sites in living mice, where they were visible using a simple mercury lamp. The scientists believe the ability to both target and image cells in vivo represents a significant step in the quest to eventually use nanotechnology to target, image, and treat cancer, cardiovascular plaques, and neurodegenerative disease in humans. The findings were published on-line July 18 in the journal Nature Biotechnology and will appear in the journals August 1 print edition.
The research team was led by Shuming Nie, PhD, a nanotechnology expert and a professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology and in Emorys Winship Cancer Institute, and by Lelund Chung, PhD, professor of urology in Emory University School of Medicine and the Winship Cancer Institute. Quantum dots are nanometer-sized luminescent semiconductor crystals that have unique chemical and physical properties due to their size and their highly compact structure. Quantum dots can be chemically linked (conjugated) to molecules such as antibodies, peptides, proteins or DNA and engineered to detect other molecules, such as those present on the surface of cancer cells.
The researchers injected human prostate cancer cells under the skin of mice to promote growth of solid prostate tumors. They then encapsulated quantum dots, made from cadmium selenide, within a highly protective coating called an ABC triblock copolymer, and over-coated the particle-polymer composite with poly (ethylene glycol). They injected the quantum dots into the circulatory system of the mice first to test "passive" targeting of the tumor. Tumors grow extra blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. These angiogenic vessels are very porous, which allowed the quantum dots to leak out and accumulate at the tumor sites, where they could be detected by fluorescence imaging.
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