Carbon quantum dot research receives grant from breast cancer foundation

OCTOBER 30, 2008 -- Clemson University (Clemson, SC) researchers have received a grant to pursue a new cancer-detection method that combines light and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Principal investigator Ya-Ping Sun said the funding will play a major role in further developing Clemson technologies on fluorescent carbon nanoparticles, quantum dots. Implanting magnetic elements into the carbon nanostructures enables the dots to serve a contrast agent for both light- and magnetic-imaging techniques, for the early detection and diagnostics of breast cancers and beyond.

"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, a chemistry professor. "It may be a more efficient, pinpointed way of detecting where the cancers are." Carbon dots, because they are organic, are safer to humans and the environment than traditional quantum dots that are mostly made of materials containing cadmium or lead.

The grant is provided by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Li Cao, a scientist in Sun's research group, will carry out the research.

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 Clemson method may enable study of different parts of cells and tissues.

When covered with special polymers and exposed to light, the quantum dots glow continuously 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.

Clemson has major initiatives in optical materials, bio-optics and laser technology, and just this week dedicated a new state-of-the-art optical science laboratories in honor of Charles H. Townes. Townes is best known for his research that led to the development of the laser, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1964. Prior to the Nobel Prize Committee's decision, Clemson awarded Townes an honorary degree in 1963.

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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