School of Physical Sciences

Dr Serpell's 'Nanobottles' Published in Prominent Journal


Posted on 28th October 2016

School of Physical Sciences lecturer and researcher, Dr Chris Serpell, has just had a collaborative paper published in the prominent science journal Nature Communications.

The paper, titled Carbon Nanotubes Allow Capture of Krypton, Barium, and Lead for Multichannel Biological X-Ray Fluorescence Imaging, is based on work from RADDEL, a training network across Europe launched in 2012.

The aim of the research was to develop a new way to enhance biological imaging. The current technique, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), is used in mapping elemental distributions in living systems, which can help with the study of diseases and poisoning. There is a lack of underlying ‘blueprints’ for the biological structures however that makes it difficult to interpret the information gathered. The team’s research aimed to fix this problem.

“We've sealed non-biological elements inside carbon nanotubes - tiny tubes 50 thousand times thinner than a human hair - to make 'nanobottles', and sent them to particular cellular structures in order to provide this blueprint”, Dr Serpell explained.

Professor Davis from Oxford added, “It’s a striking example of something that would be tough to do by any other construct - to take a gas and then ‘bottle' it and steer the bottle to one compartment in a cell so that you can use the gas for imaging.”

The research has not been without its challenges, such as building a team which covers the large range of expertise needed, and getting the ‘nanobottles’ to remain separate for long enough to be processed by the cells. Overcoming these challenges however means the findings could lead to XRF imaging being used more widely, especially in developing healthcare – possibly even encouraging similar approaches to delivering radioactive elements to combat tumours, or enhancing other imaging techniques.

With respect to their findings, Dr Serpell said, “Carbon nanotubes were once touted as a panacea to almost every technological problem; in recent years people have become much more cynical about their utility. These results show that there are unique applications which are only possible using nanotubes - they are now moving towards realistic applications.”

 “What's amazing about these findings is that the non-biological elements are toxic or gaseous, but they're securely sealed within the nanobottles by just a single layer of carbon atoms. We're really pleased that this paper can showcase the biological potential of carbon nanotubes.”

The research was a collaborative effort between Dr Serpell, Profs Davis and Anthony (Oxford), Dr Geraki (Diamond in Harwell) and Profs Tobias and Ballesteros (Barcelona). You can read the full paper here


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Last Updated: 28/10/2016