Tiny gold probes to help track disease

Tiny chemical sensors implanted into patients could help diagnose disease and track its progress.

Researchers at the University have developed tiny probes comprising gold-coated particles.

The sensors can be inserted into cells, enabling diseases to be detected and monitored remotely using light from a laser.

Laser readings

Once the probe is inside a cell, laser light shone on to it is absorbed then re-emitted, causing nearby proteins in the cell to vibrate according to their shape.

Because molecules change shape as disease progresses, they give rise to different vibrational frequencies.

Scientists can measure and interpret these vibrations, to understand how the cell is responding to disease.

Gold coating

Gold is used to coat the sensor because it is an unreactive metal, preventing the body from rejecting the implant.

The laser technique is highly sensitive, fast and uses a low-power laser.

Scientists say the probes could be a useful tool to learn more about diseases at a very small scale, by observing how molecules interact.

Further studies

Further studies will look at diseases linked to the immune system in the first instance, but researchers say the technique has potential to help doctors diagnose and monitor a range of conditions.

The research was funded by EaStCHEM, the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The findings were published in the journals Chemical Communications, the Journal of Biophotonics and ACSNano.

By creating a sensor that can safely be implanted into tissue and combining this with a sensitive light-measurement technique, we have developed a useful device that will help diagnose and track disease in patients.

Dr Colin CampbellSchool of Chemistry