QD Core Given Gold Shell
SEATTLE, July 28, 2009 -- Semiconductor and metal nanoparticles have been combined in a way that keeps the unique optical and electrical properties of each component. The resulting "all-in-one" nanoparticle is the first multipurpose nanotechnology tool created for medical imaging and therapy.
Nanoparticles have been developed to perform a wide range of medical uses, from imaging tumors to carrying drugs to delivering pulses of heat to destroy tumor cells. But rather than settling for just one of these, researchers at the University of Washington worked to combine two nanoparticles – a quantum dot (QD) core and an ultrathin gold shell – in one tiny package.
A quantum dot (red) encapsulated in a gold shell, combining two useful nanoparticles in one package. The total structure measures less than 20 nm across. (Image: University of Washington)
"This is the first time that a semiconductor and metal nanoparticles have been combined in a way that preserves the function of each individual component," said Xiaohu Gao, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering.
The current focus is on medical applications, but the researchers said multifunctional nanoparticles could also be used in energy research, for example in solar cells.
Quantum dots are fluorescent balls of semiconductor material just a few nanometers across, a small fraction of the wavelength of visible light (a nanometer is 1-millionth of a centimeter). At this tiny scale, quantum dots' unique optical properties cause them to emit light of different colors depending on their size. The dots are being developed for medical imaging, solar cells and LEDs.
Glowing gold nanoparticles have been used since ancient times in stained glass; more recently they are being developed for delivering drugs, for treating arthritis and for a type of medical imaging that uses infrared light. Gold also reradiates infrared heat and so could be used in medical therapies to cook nearby cells.
But combine a quantum dot and a gold nanoparticle, and the effects disappear. The electrical fields of the particles interfere with one another and so neither behaves as it would on its own. The two have been successfully combined on a flat surface, but never in a single particle.
The structure is described in a paper published online this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology; Gao is lead author.
The paper describes a manufacturing technique that uses proteins to surround a quantum dot core with a thin gold shell held at a distance of 3 nm, so the two components' optical and electrical fields do not interfere with one another. The quantum dot likely would be used for fluorescent imaging. The gold sphere could be used for scattering-based imaging, which works better than fluorescence in some situations, as well as for delivering heat therapy.
The manufacturing technique developed by Gao and co-author Yongdong Jin, a UW postdoctoral researcher, is general and could apply to other nanoparticle combinations, they said.
"We picked a tough case," Gao said. "It is widely known that gold or any other metal will quench quantum dot fluorescence, eliminating the quantum dot's purpose."
Gao and Jin avoided this problem by building a thin gold sphere that surrounds but never touches the quantum dot. They carefully controlled the separation between the gold shell and the nanoparticle core by using chains of polymer, polyethylene glycol. The distance between the quantum dot core and charged gold ion is determined by the length of the polymer chain and can be increased with nanometer precision by adding links to the chain. On the outside layer they added short amino acids called polyhistidines, which bind to charged gold atoms.
Gao compares the completed structure to a golden egg, where the quantum dot is the yolk, the gold is the shell, and polymers fill up the space of the egg white.
Using ions allowed the researchers to build a 2- to 3-nm gold shell that's thin enough to allow about half of the quantum dot's fluorescence to pass through.
"All the traditional techniques use premade gold nanoparticles instead of gold ions," Gao said. "Gold nanoparticles are 3 to 5 nanometers in diameter, and with factoring in roughness the thinnest coating you can build is 5-6 nanometers. Gold ions are much, much smaller.”
The total diameter of the combined particle is roughly 15-20 nm, small enough to be able to slip into a cell.
Incorporating gold provides a well-established binding site to attach biological molecules that target particular cells, such as tumor cells. Gold could also potentially amplify the quantum dot's fluorescence by five to 10 times, as it has in other cases.
The gold sphere offers one further benefit: Gold is biocompatible, is medically approved and does not biodegrade. A gold shell could provide a durable nontoxic container for nanoparticles being used in the body, Gao said.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Seattle Foundation and the UW's Department of Bioengineering.
For more information, visit: www.washington.edu
- The emission of light or other electromagnetic radiation of longer wavelengths by a substance as a result of the absorption of some other radiation of shorter wavelengths, provided the emission continues only as long as the stimulus producing it is maintained. In other words, fluorescence is the luminescence that persists for less than about 10-8 s after excitation.
- Electromagnetic radiation detectable by the eye, ranging in wavelength from about 400 to 750 nm. In photonic applications light can be considered to cover the nonvisible portion of the spectrum which includes the ultraviolet and the infrared.
- A small object that behaves as a whole unit or entity in terms of it’s transport and it’s properties, as opposed to an individual molecule which on it’s own is not considered a nanoparticle.. Nanoparticles range between 100 and 2500 nanometers in diameter.
- Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
- The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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