Biodegradable rare earth fluorochloride nanocrystals for phototheranostics†
Rare earth (RE) doped inorganic nanocrystals have been demonstrated as efficient contrast agents for deep tissue shortwave-infrared (SWIR) imaging with high sensitivities leading to potential early detection of tumors. However, a potential concern is the unknown long-term toxicity and incompatibility of inorganic nanocrystals. In this work, biodegradable rare earth nanocrystals of Nd doped SrFCl coated with polydopamine (SrFCl:Nd@PDA) were designed. Instead of traditional fluoride hosts, the chlorinated SrF2 (i.e. SrFCl) with low phonon energy which significantly improved the brightness of SrFCl:Nd in the SWIR region was used as the host. After coating with a NIR-absorptive PDA layer, the SrFCl:Nd nanoparticles serve as not only a contrast agent for photoacoustic imaging, but also a potential photothermal agent for cancer therapy. Moreover, these SrFCl:Nd@PDA nanoparticles can be rapidly and completely degraded in phosphate buffer solution within 1 h, which effectively addresses the concerns of the deleterious effects arising from potential long term accumulation. The increased accumulation and retention at tumor sites, and complete in vivo clearance ∼6 h after injection make these SrFCl:Nd@PDA nanoparticles a promising degradable phototheranostic agent.