Light-emitting nanoparticles could provide a safer way to image living cells

IMAGE: At left is a high-resolution transmission electron microscope image of a nanoparticle measuring 8 nanometers in diameter, with a 4-nanometer-thick shell. The scale bar is 5 nanometers. At right is… view more 

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Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)

A research team has demonstrated how light-emitting nanoparticles, developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can be used to see deep in living tissue.

The specially designed nanoparticles can be excited by ultralow-power laser light at near-infrared wavelengths considered safe for the human body. They absorb this light and then emit visible light that can be measured by standard imaging equipment.

The development and biological imaging application of these nanoparticles is detailed in a study published online Aug. 6 in Nature Communications.

Researchers hope to further develop these so-called alloyed upconverting nanoparticles, or aUCNPs, so that they can attach to specific components of cells to serve in an advanced imaging system to light up even single cancer cells, for example. Such a system may ultimately guide high-precision surgeries and radiation treatments, and help to erase even very tiny traces of cancer.

“With a laser even weaker than a standard green laser pointer, we can image deep into tissue,” said Bruce


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