A heavy-metal-free luminescent quantum dot (QD) based on doped zinc sulfide (ZnS), conjugated with a cancer-targeting ligand, folic acid (FA), is presented as a promising bio-friendly system for targeted cancer imaging. Doped QDs were prepared by a simple aqueous method at room temperature. X-ray diffraction and transmission electron microscopy studies showed the formation of monodisperse QDs of average size ∼4nm with cubic (sphalerite) crystal structure. Doping of the QDs with metals (Al3+), transition metals (Cu+, Mn2+) and halides (F-) resulted in multi-color emission with dopant-specific color tunability ranging from blue (480nm) to red (622nm). Luminescent centers in doped QDs could be excited using bio-friendly visible light >400nm by directly populating the dopant centers, leading to bright emission. The cytotoxicity of bare and FA conjugated QDs was tested invitro using normal lung fibroblast cell line (L929), folate-receptor-positive (FR+) nasopharyngeal epidermoid carcinoma cell line (KB), and FR-negative (FR-) lung cancer cell line (A549). Both bare and FA-conjugated ZnS QDs elicited no apparent toxicity even at high concentrations of ∼100νM and 48h of incubation. In contrast, CdS QDs prepared under identical conditions showed relatively high toxicity even at low concentrations of ∼0.1νM and 24h of incubation. Interaction of FA-QDs with different cell lines showed highly specific attachment of QDs in the FR+ cancer cell line, leaving others unaffected. The bright and stable luminescence of the QDs could be used to image both single cancer cells and colonies of cancer cells without affecting their metabolic activity and morphology. Thus, this study presents, for the first time, the use of non-toxic, Cd-, Te-, Se-, Pb-and Hg-free luminescent QDs for targeted cancer imaging.
K. Manzoor, Johny, S., Thomas, D., Setua, S., Menon, D., and Shantikumar V Nair, “Bio-conjugated Luminescent Quantum Dots of Doped ZnS: A Cyto-friendly System for Targeted Cancer Imaging”, Nanotechnology, vol. 20, 2009.