Alternating-Color Quantum Dots
Jessica Winter and Gang Ruan, engineers at Ohio State University, have invented a new kind of nano-particle that shines in different colors to tag molecules in biomedical tests. These tiny plastic nano-particles are stuffed with even tinier bits of electronics called quantum dots. Like little traffic lights, the particles glow brightly in red, yellow, or green, so researchers can easily track molecules under a microscope.
This is the first time anyone has created fluorescent nano-particles that can change colors continuously.
The scientists describe their patent-pending technology in the online edition of the journal Nano Letters.
Researchers routinely tag molecules with fluorescent materials in order to see them under the microscope. Unlike the more common fluorescent molecules, quantum dots shine very brightly, and could illuminate chemical reactions especially well, allowing researchers to see the inner workings of living cells.
A bottleneck to combating major diseases like cancer is the lack of molecular or cellular-level understanding of biological processes, the engineers explained.
"These new nanoparticles could be a great addition to the arsenal of biomedical engineers who are trying to find the roots of diseases," Ruan said.
"We can tailor these particles to tag particular molecules, and use the colors to track processes that we wouldn't otherwise be able to," he continued. "Also, this work could be groundbreaking for the field of nanotechnology as a whole, because it solves two seemingly irreconcilable problems with using quantum dots."
The university will look to license the technology for industry, and Winter and Ruan have created a Web site for the technologies they are developing: http://nanoforneuro.com.