Editors' ChoiceNanotechnology

Drink Your Juice! “Nanojuice” Shows Gut in Action

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Science Translational Medicine  23 Jul 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 246, pp. 246ec128
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009813

Because of its deep location, the small intestine is difficult to examine and diagnose for afflictions such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Assessing the organ typically involves barium ingestion followed by static imaging, an approach that has safety and resolution problems. Moreover, this method only produces snapshots of the intestine, so it cannot monitor dynamic processes.

Now, an article by Zhang and colleagues describes a new technique involving a drinkable suspension of nanoparticles that enables real-time imaging of the small intestine and its surroundings. This “nanojuice” is based on a family of dyes (naphthalocyanines) that absorb light in the near-infrared spectrum, which is ideal for biological contrast agents. The dyes cannot be used for this purpose by themselves, however, because they do not disperse in liquids and are absorbed in the intestine. To overcome these problems, the Buffalo team organized the dye molecules into nanoparticles (dubbed “nanonaps”), which permit them to disperse and pass through the intestine. They administered the nanojuice to mice orally and then performed photoacoustic tomography by scanning the animals’ abdomens with harmless laser light. The authors used ultrasound coregistration to obtain an unparalleled view of the small intestine and its function in real time. The team also performed positron emission tomography on the same animals, combining the imaging modalities for a practically useful look at the functionality of the gastrointestinal tract.

Clinical studies in patients with gastrointestinal disorders are clearly needed to confirm the diagnostic value of nanojuice, but it promises the ability to observe the small intestine in real time, which could greatly improve small intestine diagnostics. Dysfunction of this organ is even linked to nongastrointestinal illnesses, so the approach also has the potential to provide physicians with a better option to identify and monitor conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and systemic sclerosis.

Y. Zhang et al., Non-invasive multimodal functional imaging of the intestine with frozen micellar naphthalocyanines. Nat. Nanotechnol., published online 6 July 2014 (10.1038/nnano.2014.130). [PubMed]

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