Bio-degradable highly fluorescent conjugated polymer nanoparticles for bio-medical imaging applications
Conjugated polymer nanoparticles exhibit strong fluorescence and have been applied for biological fluorescence imaging in cell culture and in small animals. However, conjugated polymer particles are hydrophobic and often chemically inert materials with diameters ranging from below 50 nm to several microns. As such, conjugated polymer nanoparticles cannot be excreted through the renal system. This drawback has prevented their application for clinical bio-medical imaging. Here, we present fully conjugated polymer nanoparticles based on imidazole units. These nanoparticles can be bio-degraded by activated macrophages. Reactive oxygen species induce scission of the conjugated polymer backbone at the imidazole unit, leading to complete decomposition of the particles into soluble low molecular weight fragments. Furthermore, the nanoparticles can be surface functionalized for directed targeting. The approach opens a wide range of opportunities for conjugated polymer particles in the fields of medical imaging, drug-delivery, and theranostics.