I first covered ACerS member Roger Narayan’s work in the field of two-photon polymerization a little more than a year ago in a story for ACerS’ membership magazine, the Bulletin. For several years, Narayan, a professor in the Joint Biomedical Engineering Department that is connected with NC State’s College of Engineering and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been examining the use of this rapid prototyping approach using ceramic–polymer hybrid materials to create patient-specific microscale medical prostheses, scaffolds for tissue engineering and microscale medical devices.
One of set of applications he has been working on, in particular, is using two-photon polymerization to create arrays of fine microneedles. (Conceptually, Narayan’s polymerization process is like a 3D ink jet process that builds up structures on the nanoscale.)
Recently, Narayan coauthored a paper on the novel use of microneedles to deliver quantum dots into the skin. “Our findings are significant, in part, because this technology will potentially enable researchers to deliver quantum dots, suspended in solution, to deeper layers of skin. That could be useful for the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, among other conditions,” Narayan says in a news release from NCSU.
QDs, sometimes called “artificial atoms,” are semiconductor materials that fall into the category of nanocrystals, and they contain a variable number of electrons that occupy well-defined, discrete quantum states.
This groups is attracted to the use of QDs because of their ability to serve as fluorophores and also work as drug delivery vehicles. QD-based fluorescent probes can be engineered to be superior to organic dye fluorophore by being brighter and having better photostability (can fluoresce after one hour of continuous excitation), signal-to-noise ratio, emission ranges and fluorescent lifetimes. Researchers report they can use their intense fluorescence to track individual molecules.
At this point, Narayan and the other researchers just are using the microneedles on pig skin and can capture images of the quantum dots entering the skin using multiphoton microscopy. Although this work is still preliminary, these images allow the researchers to verify the basic effectiveness of the microneedles as a delivery mechanism for quantum dots.
The hope is that multiphoton microscopy will have clinical applications using real-time imaging materials such as the quantum dots for faster diagnosis of cancers or other medical problems.