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Smart Imaging Probes

Multifunctional Upconversion Nanogels for Beta-cell Imaging

Project ID: 2023_017

1st Supervisor: Prof Nick Long, Imperial College London
2nd Supervisor: Dr Nazila Kamaly, Imperial College London
Additional Supervisor: Prof Mark Green, King’s College London
Clinical Supervisor: Dr Ben Jones, Imperial College London


Aim of the PhD Project:

  • The overall aim of this project is to incorporate upconverting nanoparticles within nanogels for beta-cell imaging and ultimately, towards the treatment of diabetes.
  • To design and synthesise novel upconversion nanoparticles, that are stable, can be solubilised and feature functional capping ligands.
  • To design and synthesise new families of nanogels that can facilitate the incorporation of unconversion nanoparticles and are biocompatible.
  • To carry out in-depth material, toxicity and in-vitro evaluation of the novel nanomaterials.
  • To apply and target the nanomaterials to the GLP-1/glucagon receptor and to assess β-cell functionality.


Lay Summary:

Global rates of diabetes mellitus are increasing, and treatment of the disease consumes a growing proportion of healthcare spending across the world. Pancreatic β-cells, responsible for insulin production, decline in mass in type 1 and, to a more limited degree, in type 2 diabetes. However, the extent and rate of loss in both diseases differs between patients resulting in the need for the development of novel diagnostic tools, which could quantitatively assess changes in mass of β-cells over time and potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and improved treatments. Due to small concentrations of beta-cells, sensitive imaging modalities are favoured, hence optical imaging has crucial importance for this application. Within this project, for the first time, upconversion nanoparticles will be used to monitor beta-cell fate in diabetes and will aid our understanding of diabetes pathogenesis. Upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) are lanthanide-doped inorganic nanomaterials, which absorb near-infrared radiation and emit visible light. Their unique optical properties make them suitable for fluorescence microscopy, imaging deep tissue, nanomedicine and optogenetics. UCNPs exhibit resistance to photobleaching and have long luminescence lifetimes.

Students with a background in chemistry with an interest in synthetic inorganic and organic chemistry, nanomaterials, spectroscopic characterisation, and in vitro evaluation of UCNGs would be ideal for this project.


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