Stimuli-responsive imaging agents have excellent potential for the early detection and understanding of the biology of cancerous tissue. In particular, imaging agents that respond to changes in the ionic makeup of cells can potentially allow monitoring of both the development of cancer and the efficacy of new therapies.
The group within the AIBN developed a series of copolymers of oligo (ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate (OEGMA) and 2,2,2-trifluoroethyl acrylate (TFEA) (poly(OEGMA-co-TFEA) which change dimensions in the presence of salt.
This dimensional change can be monitored through changes in 19F NMR relaxation parameters. The group used high-resolution NMR and molecular dynamics to develop a deep understanding of the changes in conformation experienced by these ion-responsive agents.
The polymers were readily taken up by normal breast cells and cancerous (MCF-7) cells and pronounced differences in their relaxation behaviour in these two cells types were observed. Experiments in animal models of the disease are underway.
In a joint research effort between CBNS researchers and collaborators at the University of Nottingham, novel probes to recognise specific nucleic acids have been developed. The diagnosis component of these materials has been based on 19F MRI, where a significant shift in signal intensity has been observed depending on whether a specific nucleobase is present in solution; this is driven by structural changes in the molecules depending on variability in hybridisation potential.
These highly specific and sensitive probes are now being further developed for in vivo recognition and sensing.