On March, the workshop “Blog your research” aimed at scientists interested in bringing their research to the public, took place. It was organized by the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Pompeu Fabra University (DCEXS-UPF) and the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB).
Paula Zamora, a last year PhD student at Pilar Rivera’s research group, was one of the participants of this workshop and, in this post she brings us closer to nanoparticles from her particular experience.
It all started 4 years ago. Impossible to forget the day I was at the hospital with my mother and I received the message I had been waiting for for two years: I was about to start my PhD. I had to wait quite a long time, but the desired PhD position was finally mine. It consisted of using metal nanoparticles to treat tumors, a topic that really motivated me. I remember that, before I started, thousands of questions came to my mind. I was coming from the veterinary field, so I could not even imagine what a nanoparticle was, how they were made, what they were used for… Honestly, it was a mixture of uncontrolled curiosity and the desire to run away.
It has been about 4 years, and looking back I see that it has been a winding path. The effervescence of nanotechnology has pushed me to read publications as if there was no tomorrow. Thanks to that, I have been able to answer my early questions – and also I’ve been given the ‘geek of the year’ award by my friends. I don’t blame them, since I used to bring scientific articles everywhere, from trips to the pub!
Nanoparticles are nothing but really small particles. Think about it: you could fit a thousand nanoparticles within the diameter of a hair. Their best kept secret and what makes them so special are their dimension. At that nanoscale, materials acquire superpowers that they do not have at normal size. Silver nanoparticles, for example, can have different colours depending on their shape, while a ring won’t change colour, no matter how much we change its design.
You could fit a thousand nanoparticles within the diameter of a hair. At that nanoscale, materials acquire superpowers that they do not have at normal size.
Here you have a video in which you can see gold nanoparticles as seen through a microscope. Due to their good interaction with light we can capture the colours they reflect, which depends on their physical-chemical properties.
But, how are nanoparticles created? There are two possible ways:
- The first one consists on taking the material and breaking it into (very) small pieces.
- The second one consists on controlling the small particles behaviour so that they shape larger particles until they have the desired size, as if they were matrioskas.
Moreover, we can make nanoparticles by using different materials, from components found in our organisms, such as fat, to metals, such as gold or titanium. Nanoparticles are used in nanomedicine for the following applications:
- Imaging: signalling (colour, light, contrast).
- Diagnosis: detecting the presence of diseases.
- Therapy: generating heat in order to kill tumour cells or releasing drugs against specific diseases, for example. Heat can also be used to release these compounds.
- Theranostics: combining diagnosis with treatment. When faced with a disease hallmark, the treatment is released in an intelligent way.
As you have read, these super particles can do loads of things. Knowing and controlling their properties, we can get the specific tools needed in each application. I hope you enjoyed the post and… from now on, you have no excuses to not dig deeper into the nanoparticles world!