Ultrabright fluorescent silica nanoparticles for in vivo targeting of xenografted human tumors and cancer cells in zebrafish†
New ultrabright fluorescent silica nanoparticles capable of the fast targeting of epithelial tumors in vivo are presented. The as-synthesized folate-functionalized ultrabright particles of 30–40 nm are 230 times brighter than quantum dots (QD450) and 50% brighter than the polymer dots with similar spectra (excitation 365 nm and emission 486 nm). To decrease non-specific targeting, particles are coated with polyethylene glycol (PEG). We demonstrate the in vivo targeting of xenographic human cervical epithelial tumors (HeLa cells) using zebrafish as a model system. The particles target tumors (and probably even individual HeLa cells) as small as 10–20 microns within 20–30 minutes after blood injection. To demonstrate the advantages of ultrabrightness, we repeated the experiments with similar but 200× less bright particles. Compared to those, ultrabright particles showed ∼3× faster tumor detection and ∼2× higher relative fluorescent contrast of tumors/cancer cells.