Engineering renal-clearable nanoprobes as next-generation theranostic agents

Quantum-sized gold nanoclusters (AuNCs) are emerging as powerful theranostic agents – those that combine diagnostics and therapeutic properties – given their ultra small size (< 2 nm), which makes them behave more like a molecule rather than a nanoparticle. This molecule-like behaviour provides AuNCs with exciting properties including photoluminescence, catalytic activity, paramagnetism and optical chirality – all without the presence of any toxic heavy metal, as opposed to, for example, semiconductor quantum dots. But despite these fundamental advances, synthetic approaches to produce high-quality AuNCs with well-controlled and programmable properties for biological applications. We have recently developed a new synthetic approach that enables an unprecedented control in the AuNCs properties and behaviour in biological settings. This project aims develop new insight into their structure-property relationship that allow us to engineer highly-fluorescent AuNCs with tuneable emission, and expand this knowledge to other metallic nanoclusters.

This project will involve some basic polymer synthesis, as well as materials characterisation by DLS, electron microscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy. Interactions of the nanoclusters with cells and tissues will also be investigated using cell-based assays, molecular biology techniques, live cell microscopy and flow cytometry. This project may also involve some Machine Learning activities.