Utilizing the power of Cerenkov light with nanotechnology

Abstract

The characteristic blue glow of Cerenkov luminescence (CL) arises from the interaction between a charged particle travelling faster than the phase velocity of light and a dielectric medium, such as water or tissue. As CL emanates from a variety of sources, such as cosmic events, particle accelerators, nuclear reactors and clinical radionuclides, it has been used in applications such as particle detection, dosimetry, and medical imaging and therapy. The combination of CL and nanoparticles for biomedicine has improved diagnosis and therapy, especially in oncological research. Although radioactive decay itself cannot be easily modulated, the associated CL can be through the use of nanoparticles, thus offering new applications in biomedical research. Advances in nanoparticles, metamaterials and photonic crystals have also yielded new behaviours of CL. Here, we review the physics behind Cerenkov luminescence and associated applications in biomedicine. We also show that by combining advances in nanotechnology and materials science with CL, new avenues for basic and applied sciences have opened.

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Figure 1: The Cerenkov mechanism for blue-weighted luminescence.
Figure 2: Challenges of in vivo imaging of CL, highlighting the utility of photoluminescent nanoparticles.
Figure 3: Nanoparticle combinations with CL allow improved in vivo imaging.
Figure 4: Clinical small-molecule radiotracers and nanoparticles offer ease of clinical translation.
Figure 5: CL emitters can be incorporated into nanoparticles for high specific activity, multimodal probes.
Figure 6: Smart, activatable nanoparticles allow in vivo modulation of radioactive signal along with therapeutic opportunities.
Figure 7: The Cerenkov mechanism can be modified in unique ways through interaction with metamaterials and photonic crystals.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01EB014944 and R01CA183953 and P30 CA08748, in addition to National Science Foundation (NSF) IGERT traineeship DGS 0965983.

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Correspondence to Jan Grimm.

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Shaffer, T., Pratt, E. & Grimm, J. Utilizing the power of Cerenkov light with nanotechnology. Nature Nanotech 12, 106–117 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2016.301

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