Cancer; photodynamic therapy; pdt; ovcar3; a549; mda mb 231; mia paca 2; conducting polymer nanoparticles; apoptosis; necrosis; flow cytometry; biosensors; quantum dots; dopamine; quenching


In photodynamic therapy a photosensitizer drug is administered and is irradiated with light. Upon absorption of light the photosensitizer goes into its triplet state and transfers energy or an electron to oxygen to form reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS react with biomolecules in cells leading to cell damage and cell death. PDT has interested many researchers because of its non-invasiveness as compared to surgery, it leaves little to no scars, it is time and cost effective, it has potential for targeted treatment, and can be repeated as needed. Different photosensitizers such as porphyrines, chlorophylls, and dyes have been used in PDT to treat various cancers, skin diseases, aging and sun-damaged skin. These second generation sensitizers have yielded reduced skin sensitivity and improved extinction coefficients (up to ~ 105 L mol-1 cm-1). While PDT based on small molecule photosensitizers has shown great promise, several problems remain unsolved. The main issues with current sensitizers are (i) hydrophobicity leading to aggregation in aqueous media resulting in reduced efficacy and potential toxicity, (ii) dark toxicity of photosensitizers, (iii) non-selectivity towards malignant tissue resulting in prolonged cutaneous photosensitivity and damage to healthy tissue, (iv) limited light absorption efficiency, and (v) a lack of understanding of where the photosensitizer ends up in the tissue. In this dissertation research program, these issues were addressed by the development of conducting polymer nanoparticles as a next generation of photosensitizers. This choice was motivated by the fact that conducting polymers have large extinction coefficients (> 107 L mol-1 cm-1), are able to undergo intersystem crossing to the triplet state, and have triplet energies that are close to that of oxygen. It was therefore hypothesized that such polymers could be effective at generating ROS due to the large excitation rate that can be generated. Conducting polymer nanoparticles (CPNPs) composed of the conducting polymer poly[2-methoxy-5-(2-ethylhexyl-oxy)-p-phenylenevinylene] (MEH-PPV) were fabricated and studied in-vitro for their potential in PDT application. Although not fully selective, the nanoparticles exhibited a strong bias to the cancer cells. The formation of ROS was proven in-vitro by staining of the cells with CellROX Green Reagent, after which PDT results were quantified by MTT assays. Cell mortality was observed to scale with nanoparticle dosage and light dosage. Based on these promising results the MEH-PPV nanoparticles were developed further to allow for surface functionalization, with the aim of targeting these NPs to cancer cell lines. For this work targeting of cancers that overexpress folate receptors (FR) were considered. The functionalized nanoparticles (FNPs) were studied in OVCAR3 (ovarian cancer cell line) as FR+, MIA PaCa2 (pancreatic cell line) as FR-, and A549 (lung cancer cell line) having marginal FR expression. Complete selectivity of the FNPs towards the FR+ cell line was found. Quantification of PDT results by MTS assays and flow cytometry show that PDT treatment was fully selective to the FR+ cell line (OVCAR3). No cell mortality was observed for the other cell lines studied here within experimental error. Finally, the issue of confirming and quantifying small molecule drug delivery to diseased tissue was tackled by developing quantum dot (Qdot) biosensors with the aim of achieving fluorescence reporting of intracellular small molecule/drug delivery. For fluorescence reporting prior expertise in control of the fluorescence state of Qdots was employed, where redox active ligands can place the Qdot in a quenched OFF state. Ligand attachment was accomplished by disulfide linker chemistry. This chemistry is reversible in the presence of sulfur reducing biomolecules, resulting in Qdots in a brightly fluorescent ON state. Glutathione (GSH) is such a biomolecule that is present in the intracellular environment. Experimental in-vitro data shows that this design was successfully implemented.


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Graduation Date





Gesquiere, Andre


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

June 2016

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences; Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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Chemistry Commons