Spectral triangulation: a 3D method for locating single-walled carbon nanotubes in vivo†
Nanomaterials with luminescence in the short-wave infrared (SWIR) region are of special interest for biological research and medical diagnostics because of favorable tissue transparency and low autofluorescence backgrounds in that region. Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) show well-known sharp SWIR spectral signatures and therefore have potential for noninvasive detection and imaging of cancer tumours, when linked to selective targeting agents such as antibodies. However, such applications face the challenge of sensitively detecting and localizing the source of SWIR emission from inside tissues. A new method, called spectral triangulation, is presented for three dimensional (3D) localization using sparse optical measurements made at the specimen surface. Structurally unsorted SWCNT samples emitting over a range of wavelengths are excited inside tissue phantoms by an LED matrix. The resulting SWIR emission is sampled at points on the surface by a scanning fibre optic probe leading to an InGaAs spectrometer or a spectrally filtered InGaAs avalanche photodiode detector. Because of water absorption, attenuation of the SWCNT fluorescence in tissues is strongly wavelength-dependent. We therefore gauge the SWCNT–probe distance by analysing differential changes in the measured SWCNT emission spectra. SWCNT fluorescence can be clearly detected through at least 20 mm of tissue phantom, and the 3D locations of embedded SWCNT test samples are found with sub-millimeter accuracy at depths up to 10 mm. Our method can also distinguish and locate two embedded SWCNT sources at distinct positions.