Nav: Home

UC team's small discovery holds big promise for cancer nanotechnology

March 14, 2016

When a team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati discovered a new nanostructure that showed significantly higher properties for use in technology that may allow doctors to see and destroy cancerous cells, they knew they were on to something exciting.

But the structure of the new SERS nanotag, as it's called, was so novel that the team -- led by Laura Sagle, an assistant professor of chemistry, with UC graduate students Debrina Jana, Jie He and Ian Bruzas -- was at a loss in understanding what generated the promising data or how to best optimize it.

Enter Zohre Gorunmez.

The fourth-year PhD student is credited with conducting nearly three years of complex and detailed calculations to better understand the new nanotag. She will present her findings at the American Physical Society's March conference, held March 14-18 in Baltimore.

"It was calculations that no one on campus had done before," explained Sagle, who serves as an advisor to Gorunmez. "Zohre, essentially by herself and without a lot of guidance and help, got these calculations up and running."

The discovery came in 2013 as part of the Sagle Lab research group's work in developing new methods to study and examine single molecules using a technique called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, or SERS.

The technique targets molecules using lasers, which results in a scattering of light at different wavelengths along a spectrum. Because the molecules produce weak signals, gold or silver nanoparticles are used to amplify them, which is measured by a spectrometer for analysis.

The process is highly sensitive and fraught with challenges, including difficulties with reproducibility, signal stability and a lack of quantitative information.

The team looked to previous research, which showed greater enhancement from molecules residing within a one nanometer gap between a structure with a smooth metallic core and shell. But this one nanometer gap - 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair - is often difficult and expensive to produce, resulting in a lack of widespread use.

The team also took note of other popular research using gold nanostars, a starfruit-shaped particle that has allowed for greater enhancement, but is highly variable due to the difficult of controlling the number and size of the spiky tips.

Inspired, the team decided to combine the two concepts and create a structure comprised of a smooth inner metallic core surrounded by a spiky metallic outer shell with a three nanometer spacing - an approach never before created, Sagle said.

The newly created nanotag produced 10 times greater signal enhancement compared to smooth-shell core structures, making it possible to detect minute amounts of organic molecules, such as DNA, for particular diseases, she said.

Not only that, the spiky structures are more efficient at generating heat, useful in destroying cancer cells, and offer an increased surface area that can accommodate more drugs in order to deliver a greater targeted blast to diseased cells, said Sagle.

"This allows you to target, image and release drugs all with one device," she explained.

While the discovery itself proved novel, Sagle knew that the team's promising nanotag needed to be further analyzed, understood and modeled before it could be used in biological applications. That's where Gorunmez came in.

Under the guidance of Thomas Beck, a professor of chemistry, Gorunmez learned new code and programming to calculate the complicated data. Her contributions proved invaluable, said Sagle, earning her a spot as co-first-author on the paper detailing the discovery.

"With Zohre's calculations, it was a much better paper showing we made something new, it showed better properties and we understand to some degree why," she said."

Gorunmez said that while the work proved challenging, the promise of what the data holds for use in biohealth applications fueled her drive to persevere.

"It's novel. I'm sure it's going to help scientists in medical research to use those structures to get what they need. Knowing this gets me excited," she said.

University of Cincinnati

Related Organic Molecules Articles:

Organic electronics: Semiconductors as decal stickers
No more error-prone evaporation deposition, drop casting or printing: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and FSU Jena have developed organic semiconductor nanosheets, which can easily be removed from a growth substrate and placed on other substrates.
New organic lasers one step closer to reality
Researchers at Kyushu University's Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics Research have developed an optically pumped organic thin-film laser that can continuously emit light for 30 ms, which is more than 100 times longer than previous devices.
Dawn of organic single crystal electronics
Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Science, National Institutes of Natural Sciences (Japan) have developed a method for high performance doping of organic single crystal.
Organic electronics can use power from socket
Organic light-emitting devices and printed electronics can be connected to a socket in the wall by way of a small, inexpensive organic converter, developed in a collaboration between Linköping University and Umeå University.
The repulsion trick: A self-solving puzzle for organic molecules
Jülich researchers have succeeded in controlling the growth of organic molecules using a special trick.
Metal-organic frameworks used as looms
Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have made major progress in the production of two-dimensional polymer-based materials.
New insights into the forms of metal-organic frameworks
A new study, affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), has introduced a new novel design strategy for synthesizing various forms of metal-organic materials (MOMs).
Game changer for organic solar cells
Researchers develop a simple processing technique that could cut the cost of organic photovoltaics and wearable electronics.
Report provides options for organic soybean growers
Although soybeans are one of the most widely grown crops in the U.S., few soybean farmers are using organic practices.
Chemists design organic molecules that glow persistently at room temperature
LEDs have inspired a new generation of electronics, but there is still work ahead if we want luminescent materials to consume less energy and have longer lifespans.

Related Organic Molecules Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".