Detection and therapy in healthcare using nano-science


By Zoe Pikramenou

Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Photophysics

My research team studies the processes occurring upon light interaction with molecular and nano-sized probes to understand the energy transport and conversion mechanisms for the construction of novel systems where the structure can dictate the function of the material. Our programme cuts across inorganic chemistry, photophysics and nanoscience for the design of new functional molecular and nanosized probes which respond to light activation with a measurable luminescent read-out signal which is key to the detection of the probe interactions in participating events. To explore applications we collaborate extensively with experts in Biosciences, the Medical School Computer Sciences and Chemical Engineering.

One line of our research aims to tackle detection and therapy issues in healthcare. Fluorescence imaging has become an increasingly appealing technique for detection because it is highly sensitive as well as non-invasive and non-destructive, providing good temporal resolution for detection of fast events. Nano-sized probes can provide information with increased spatial resolution down to single probe with conventional optical microscopes. To add functionality to our probes, we incorporate peptide targeting vectors to the light-emitting nano-probes for biological cell imaging to control cellular uptake and target delivery. By using coordination chemistry of lanthanides (commonly known as rare earths) and transition metals with a variety of ligands, noble metal and silica nanoparticles we develop particles will luminesce in the visible and near infra-red providing different colours for detection. Light-emitting nanoparticles that are not taken up into cells can also play a valuable role in the cardiovascular systems and we have develop highly coated luminescent nanoparticle probes that enable their imaging in blood flow in the microvasculature of biological tissues and in the micro-channels of fluidic devices.   Infra red light is transparent to skin and can be used in detection of blood flows as several blood pigments absorb the visible radiation emitted from common lumophores.


Beyond the biomedical applications, we are also interested in the understanding of the energy conversion processes on surfaces for the development of sensors and improvements of solar cell function. We have recently developed luminescent gold surfaces for sensing and imaging with patterning of transition metals and have shown that supramolecular assemblies on surfaces enhance the performance of the dye-sensitised solar cells.

Image: Gold surfaces for protein detection