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UCF Team Unlocks Quantum Dot Imaging To Speed Drug Testing

by Editor1 last modified January 11, 2012 - 15:29

Testing the effectiveness of new pharmaceuticals may get faster thanks to a new technique which uses quantum dots to probe the efficacy of drugs in live cells. The novel technique was developed by a team at the University of Central Florida.

UCF Team Unlocks Quantum Dot Imaging To Speed Drug Testing

Dr. Swadeshmukul Santra working on quantum dot imaging in his lab at UCF.

Traditional testing procedures for new drugs can take a decade or more, but the USF team led by associate professor Dr. Swadeshmukul Santra has created an electronic quantum dot probe that will "light up" when a drug it is delivering attaches to cancer cells and delivers it payload.

Using the new technique, a researcher can use a microscope to see where and how much of the drug has been delivered because the probe emits a reddish color under special lighting or via MRI because of its optical and magnetic components, Dr. Santa said. Images can be taken over and over throughout the entire delivery process -- without any loss of optical or MRI signal. Researchers can then measure the size of the tumor and number of cancer cells that "light up" compared with the original untreated tumor, he added.

This data provides a way to determine whether the drug is doing what it is supposed to be doing in the targeted areas. "Many people in my area have been studying this approach for years," Dr. Santra said. "But we have now moved it into a live cell, not just in test tubes."

Dr. Sudiptal Seal, the director of UCF's NanoScience Technology Center said Santra's research is significant. "This is indeed a major breakthrough in Qdot [quantum dot] research. This new diagnostic tool will certainly impact the field of nanomedicine,” Dr. Seal said.

Dr. Santra and his team used semiconductor quantum dots to create their novel probe. Because of their small size and crystal-like structure, quantum dots can display unique optical and electronic properties when they get excited. These unique properties make them ideal for sustained and reliable imaging with special lights.

In specific, the team used a superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticle core decorated with satellite CdS:Mn/ZnS quantum dots which carried the cancer-fighting agent STAT3 inhibitor. The quantum dot optical signal turned on when the probe bonded with the cancer cells.

The new quantum dot technique is much easier than the current process of removing treated cancer tumors and weighing them at regular intervals to determine the drug's efficiency in an animal.

Santra has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida. He has written dozens of articles and book chapters on nanoscience and nanotechnology. Santra also holds eight US patents in nano-bio and biomedical fields.

Collaborators on the research included: Andre J. Gesquiere also of UCF, James Turkson of the University of Hawaii, Glenn A. Water of the University of Florida and Patrick T. Gunning from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Santra also has his own team of students and scientists at the UCF NanoScience Technology Center, which has been studying nanotechnology, quantum dots and their applications for years. The team focuses on the engineering of nanomaterials for bioimaging and sensing, drug delivery and anti-microbial applications.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.