Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation awards grant for imaging-agent research

October 30, 2008

CLEMSON -- Clemson University researchers developing imaging agents to allow a new method of detecting breast cancers have received $180,000 from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women.

The new method allows for a combination of light and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that may help researchers look at different parts of cells and tissues.

Clemson chemistry professor and principal investigator Ya-Ping Sun said the funding will play a major role in further developing Clemson technologies on fluorescent carbon nanomaterials, dubbed "carbon dots", by implanting magnetic elements into the dots. This will serve as a contrast agent for both light- and magnetic-imaging techniques for the early detection and diagnostics of breast cancers and beyond. Li Cao, a research scientist in Sun's research group, will carry out the research project.

"We're enhancing the chemistry and properties of these carbon quantum dots for their potential uses in diagnostics that essentially combine the capabilities of MRIs with those of optical imaging," said Sun. "It may be a more efficient, pinpointed way of detecting where the cancers are."

Imaging techniques such as mammography, specialized MRI and optical imaging all improve the chances of early detection. The complementary advantages of specialized MRI and fluorescence imaging can be especially beneficial to patients because of significant improvements in contrast and spacial resolution.

The carbon quantum dots are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. When they are covered with special polymers, they begin to glow when exposed to light. The glow is continuous until the light source is removed. Materials such as antibodies or magnetic elements can be attached to the polymer coating. Sun said this could lead to better dyes for medical imaging. Since they are organic, the carbon dots are safer to humans and the environment than traditional quantum dots that are mostly made of materials containing cadmium or lead.

Komen's Upstate South Carolina affiliate contributed $25,000 to the $180,000 grant with its local fundraising efforts. Sun has received $550,000 in National Institutes of Health support to fund research on carbon dots.
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Clemson University

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