New instrument keeps an electronic 'eye' on nanoparticles

(Nanowerk News) Precision measurement in the world of nanoparticles has now become a possibility thanks to scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB). The UCSB research team has developed a new instrument capable of detecting and analyzing individual nanoparticles with diameters as small as a few tens of nanometers. The study was published in Nature Nanotechnology ("A high-throughput label-free nanoparticle analyser").
"This device opens up a wide range of potential applications in nanoparticle analysis," said Jean-Luc Fraikin, the lead author on the study. "Applications in water analysis, pharmaceutical development, and other biomedical areas are likely to be developed using this new technology." The instrument was developed in the lab of Andrew Cleland in collaboration with the group of Erkki Ruoslahti of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at UCSB and a member of the National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer.
The device detects the tiny particles suspended in fluid as they flow one by one through the instrument at rates estimated to be as high as half a million particles per second. Dr. Fraikin compares the device to a nanoscale turnstile, which can count and measure particles as they pass through the electronic "eye" of the instrument. The instrument measures the volume of each nanoparticle, allowing for very rapid and precise size analysis of complex mixtures. This type of analysis should prove invaluable for gathering the nanoparticle characterization data needed to secure regulatory approval for nanoparticle-enabled anticancer agents and other therapeutics. Additionally, the researchers showed that the instrument could detect bacterial virus particles in saline solution as well as in mouse blood plasma.
In this study, the researchers also made the surprising discovery of a high concentration of what appears to be naturally occurring nanoparticles in the native blood plasma. These particles exhibited an intriguing size distribution, with particle concentration increasing as the diameter fell to an order of 30 to 40 nanometers, an as-yet unexplained result.
Source: National Cancer Institute