Aug 25, 2015 10:40 PM EDT
According to reports, scientists in China have designed tiny nanocrystals to be used in the next generation of medical imaging technologies. They can light up cancer cells and discover diseased cells even in low concentrations. The study was published online in the journal Applied Materials Today. The team of Chinese researchers describe these nanocrystal films based on the heavy metals europium and lanthanum.
Dr. Yaping Du and his colleagues of Xi'an Jiaotong University, China, have designed a way to create high-quality nanocrystals of lanthanide oxybromides. In their nanocrystals, the lanthanide metal can be europium, lanthanum, terbium or gadolinium. The scientists are producing the materials by heating a readily available precursor material. This technique allows them to incorporate "dopants" of triply charged europium ions, Eu3+, into any of the LaOBr nanocrystals.
In the published research paper, the team explains that the process developed by them allows very precise control of the exact nanocrystal shape and size. This feature of the process allows them to fine-tune the color of the light produced by these materials when they are stimulated with electricity or ultraviolet light.
The Chinese research team made tests with transmission electron microscopy on the nanocrystals. This technique forms ultrathin films, plates and tiny particles and allows to reveal the desired uniformity and quality. Ultraviolet spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography provide additional detailed evidence about the internal nanocrystals structure at the atomic level.
Once they had established the physical and chemical details of the nanocrystals, the Chinese research team tested the particles on a tissue sample, as "staining" agents. The sample contained liver cancer cells held on a microscope slide. The scientists found that, while healthy cells do not act this way, the diseased cells could take up the nanocrystals.
The nanocrystals preferentially "stain" the cancer cells and through their bright luminescence this can clearly be seen under the microscope. This technique can be used as an easy way of identification cancer cells and allow oncologists to spot in a biopsy sample even tiny numbers of diseased cells.
The Chinese research team also suggests in their published study that the bright luminescence of their lanthanide oxybromides could be also used in low-energy lighting applications as an alternative to light emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent bulbs currently used.
According to Prof Manish Chhowalla of Rutgers University, Editor-in-Chief of Applied Materials Today, the results reported by Du and his research team could have a significant impact on the fields of nanomaterials for lighting and medical imaging.
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