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Plasmonic Heaters Linked to Lanthanide-Based Nanothermometers for Photodynamic Therapy in the Near-Infrared

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Nanoscale thermometer creates new therapeutic opportunities

EU-funded researchers have developed a thermometer that can measure temperatures at the nanoscale in biological systems. This ability could lead to new targeted heat-based therapies for diseases such as cancer.

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The PHELLINI project managed to combine nanoparticles that have thermometry properties with gold-based nanoparticles that act like heating agents. These particles efficiently create hot areas when activated with near-infrared light. By combining these two functionalities – heating and thermometry – within the same structure, the project team has created new opportunities for developing nano-based photothermal therapies. “Measuring temperatures at the nanoscale in biological systems is an interesting tool in itself,” notes PHELLINI project coordinator Dr Luis Liz-Marzán from CIC biomaGUNE in Spain. “Our results can now be exploited either for fundamental biological studies or to develop new therapeutic techniques, though it should be noted that our nanocomposites are still at a rather early stage. The path to actual clinical use of novel techniques in medicine is typically very long.” Medical frontier Many biologically relevant entities, such as proteins, can be manipulated at the nanoscale. This opens up radical new possibilities in how we diagnose and treat certain diseases. "We have the possibility now of engineering nanomaterials that can, for example, circulate in the blood stream or even be incorporated inside cells," explains Dr Liz-Marzán. "This could lead to more targeted therapies. For example, nano-vehicles can be designed to carry drugs towards cells, which are then released at a controlled rate. New therapies based on nanomaterials could also be designed to locally modify the environment of diseased cells upon application of an external non-invasive stimulus, such as a magnetic field or light." The scientific community is still investigating the possibilities of applying nanotechnology in the field of medicine, which is why projects like PHELLINI are so important. A common challenge, notes Dr Marta Quintanilla, the researcher funded through the Marie Curie project, is that nanomedical research is situated at the very frontier of different branches of science – biology, chemistry and physics – and requires a multidisciplinary approach and cooperation. “Researchers in each field must be willing to learn and understand each other’s viewpoint,” she says. Combined knowledge The goal of the PHELLINI project was to identify viable materials for photothermal therapy. ‘This involves increasing the temperature of the disease environment upon external illumination,’ says Dr. Quintanilla. ‘The targeted temperature should be high enough to kill infectious agents or cancer cells, but at the same time not damage healthy tissue.’ A key challenge therefore was to find a way of controlling the temperature so as to affect only the area in need of treatment. The project team proposed a combination of nanomaterials that could be heated up while at same time remotely recording the local temperature. They noted that certain wavelengths of light (in the near-infrared ranges known as biological windows) are able to travel deeper through human tissue than other wavelengths (such as visible colours). "Using this knowledge, we managed to develop a thermometric material that is fully operational within this transparency range," says Dr Liz-Marzán. "Using this novel material, we were able to reliably measure the temperature of tissue." Marie-Curie funding not only facilitated this discovery, but also enabled young researchers to broaden their professional experience by working in different environments. "Such opportunities are important for researchers to establish connections across different fields," says Dr Liz-Marzán.


PHELLINI, cells, therapeutic, Marie Curie, temperature, thermometer, photothermal, infrared, nanoparticles

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