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Harnessing infinitely powerful technology to explore the infinitely small

February 25, 2014 | Stéphanie Thibault

Update : December 10, 2020

Nanoparticles (NP) clearly have a key role to play in the drugs of the future. In order to develop powerful therapies, an indepth understanding of how NPs behave in cells is critical. As such, INRS has boosted its research capabilities with the addition of a multifocal multiphoton imaging system. This instrument, the first of its kind worldwide, combines the realms of ultrafast and ultrasmall science to enable researchers to track the movement of NPs in living cells.

Thanks to a grant by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Professor Fiorenzo Vetrone of the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre was able to acquire this state-of-the-art instrument developed by the firm Photon etc.

Photo: Photon Etc

Professor Vetrone’s goal is to obtain NPs capable of detecting and destroying cancer cells. “The rare earth nanoparticles I work with react to a variety of different wavelengths, which would allow us to excite them once to detect them using an imaging system and then a second time to heat the nanoparticles and “burn” the surrounding cancer cell. That’s one of the strategies we can develop with the new imaging system.”

The multifocal multiphoton imaging system makes it possible to see temperature zones in a cell and how they change over time, providing new insight on the way cells work. This information sheds new light on the metabolic activity of cells and the energy stored by NPs during laser excitation. Temperature-based imaging could enable the early diagnosis of certain cancers because cancer cells present a higher level of metabolic activity—and thus a higher temperature—than healthy cells.

“While mammograms can detect tumors of a few million cells, the heat detection technique would be able to detect tumors with as few as a few hundred cells.”

Professor Vetrone

The multiphoton fluorescence microspectroscopy system Photon etc. will build includes 25 beams capable of simultaneously targeting a sample. It is powerful enough to detect the very weak signal emitted during two-photon excitation of a large number of points, including on nanometric platforms. The system combines a femtosecond laser tunable over a wide tuning range (690–1040 nm) to enable fluorescence excitation of samples and a multifocal multiphoton microscopy module that offers the advantage of reducing data acquisition time. Fluorescence spectral analyses using these instruments will reveal the structure and composition of the samples studied. In addition to Professor Fiorenzo Vetrone, a number of other researchers from INRS and the greater Montreal scientific community will benefit from this state-of-the-art new system.