Such tumors are associated with increased cancer aggressiveness and are particularly difficult to treat. Oxygen nanosensors are powerful new research tools that one day may also be used for the diagnosis and detection of diseases and for planning treatment strategies.
The new material is based on poly(lactic acid), a biorenewable, biodegradable polymer that is safe for the body and the environment, and is easy and inexpensive to fabricate in many forms, including films, fibers and nanoparticles. It is useful for medical research as well as environmental research, sustainable design and green products, too.
Chemists at the University of Virginia developed the material and consulted with cancer researchers at the U.Va. Cancer Center and Duke University Medical Center to determine possible applications.
Guoqing Zhang, a U.Va. chemistry doctoral candidate, working with Cassandra Fraser, a U.Va. chemistry professor, synthesized the new material by combining a corn-based biopolymer with a dye that is both fluorescent and phosphorescent. The phosphorescence appears as a long-lived afterglow that is only evident under low oxygen or oxygen-free conditions.
Zhang devised a method to adjust the relative intensities of short-lived blue fluorescence and long-lived yellow phosphorescence, ultimately creating a calibrated colorful glow that allows visualization of even minute levels of oxygen. The biomaterial displays its oxygen-sensitive phosphorescence at room or body temperature, making it ideal for use in tissues.
"We were amazed at how easy the material was to synthesize and fabricate as films and nanoparticles, and how useful it is for measuring low oxygen concentrations," Fraser said.
Cancer researchers at Duke quickly realized that the new material could be particularly useful for real-time and extended-time spatial mapping of oxygen levels in tumors. This is important because a lack of sufficient oxygen in tumors – called "hypoxia" – is a major source of resistance to radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and promotes a greater degree of malignancy.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Virginia