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Monday, March 31, 2008

Stanford uses gold nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes and lasers to image to the nanometer in the body

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers has developed a new type of imaging system that can illuminate tumors in living subjects—getting pictures with a precision of nearly on nanometer (one-trillionth of a meter).

This technique, called Raman spectroscopy, expands the available toolbox for the field of molecular imaging, said team leader Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor of radiology. signals from Raman spectroscopy are stronger and longer-lived than other available methods, and the type of particles used in this method can transmit information about multiple types of molecular targets simultaneously.

“Usually we can measure one or two things at a time,” he said. “With this, we can now likely see 10, 20, 30 things at once.”

Gambhir said he believes this is the first time Raman spectroscopy has been used to image deep within the body, using tiny nanoparticles injected into the body to serve as beacons.

When laser light is beamed from a source outside the body, these specialized particles emit signals that can be measured and converted into a visible indicator of their location in the body.

Imaging of animals and humans can be done using a few different methods, including PET, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, optical bioluminescence and fluorescence and ultrasound. However, said Gambhir, none of these methods so far can fulfill all the desired qualities of an imaging tool, which include being able to finely detect small biochemical details, being able to detect more than one target at a time and being cheap and easy to use.

Postdoctoral scholars Shay Keren, PhD, and Cristina Zavaleta, PhD, co-first authors of the study, found a way to make Raman spectroscopy a medical tool. To get there, they used two types of engineered Raman nanoparticles: gold nanoparticles and single-wall carbon nanotubes.

First, they injected mice with the some of the nanoparticles. To see the nanoparticles, they used a special microscope that the group had adapted to view anesthetized mice exposed to laser light. The researchers could see that the nanoparticles migrated to the liver, where they were processed for excretion.

Using a microscope they modified to detect Raman nanoparticles, the team was able to see targets on a scale 1,000 times smaller than what is now obtainable by the most precise fluorescence imaging using quantum dots.

When adapted for human use, they said, the technique has the potential to be useful during surgery, for example, in the removal of cancerous tissue. The extreme sensitivity of the imager could enable detection of even the most minute malignant tissues.