03.10.2018 change 03.10.2018

Sensitive thermometers to fry cancer?

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

To kill the cancer cell with heat, you need extremely sensitive tiny heaters, and you need nanothermometers. Łukasz Marciniak`s team creates particles capable of controlling the temperature of biological objects without electrical connections, non-invasively.

Dr. Łukasz Marciniak, a physicist at the Institute of Low Temperature and Structure Research PAS in Wrocław, specialises in "luminescent thermometry of nanocrystals". This phenomenon can be used in biological research, among other things. For example, when preparing particles for overheating cancer cells and causing their death as a result of hyperthermia.

Together with a team of four scientists, Dr. Marciniak prepares tiny "heaters", nanoparticles that convert light into heat. These particles are also luminescent thermometers. They can determine the temperature of objects with great accuracy without having electrical connections. According to the scientist, the sensitivity of his luminescent thermometers is an order of magnitude higher than the thermometers previously described in the scientific literature.

"Our luminescent thermometers are inorganic nanoparticles doped with transition metal and lanthanide ions. They can both overheat cells in biological systems and measure their temperature during therapy. We determine the temperature of such a nanoparticle based on its emission spectrum. We excite it with light and determine its temperature based on its luminescence response to this excitation" - explains the physicist.

Non-contact measurement can be used wherever it is impossible to physically apply the device to an object, whose temperature should be determined. In a living organism, the temperature of tissues up to 2 cm below the surface of the skin can be determined. In his research on cells, Dr. Marciniak has proven that such a measurement does not disrupt the function of the biological system.

"In the future, we can create multifunctional particles that will be specific only to cancer cells. After insertion into the body, they will be located only at cancer cells. We will determine where thosee cancer cells are. Then, through illuminating, we will be able to overheat them locally, in real time, and cause their necrosis, death. We will combine diagnostics and therapy "- explains Dr. Marciniak.

He assures that in order to prevent such therapy from causing significant damage to healthy tissues, doctors will have to control the temperature of cells in real time with very high precision. Very sensitive thermometers are being prepared for this purpose. When the particles reach excessive temperature, scientists can reduce the excitation level and, consequently, decrease their temperature.

The cooperation of nanoparticles with biological system requires research related to their biofunctionalisation. Dr. Marciniak`s team consists of physicists and chemists who are currently working on improving the functionality of particles. They are looking for the perfect recipe for particles that will convert light into heat most efficiently, and will be thermometers with the highest possible sensitivity. Researchers have already filed two patent applications concerning their nanothermometers and non-contact temperature measurement technique.

Work on nanothermometers has been carried out for a year as part of the First Team project of the Foundation for Polish Science. Four scientists from Dr. Marciniak`s team are now conducting research into the cytotoxicity of these particles. Researchers are testing how the particles act on cells in biological systems.

Łukasz Marciniak is a scholarship holder of the START program of the Foundation for Polish Science and the laureate of this year`s edition of the Polityka Weekly Scientific Awards.

PAP - Science in Poland, Karolina Duszczyk

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