We present the development and characterization of nanoparticles loaded with a custom phosphor; we exploit these nanoparticles to perform quantitative measurements of the concentration of oxygen within three-dimensional (3-D) tissue cultures in vitro and blood vessels in vivo. We synthesized a customized ruthenium (Ru)-phosphor and incorporated it into polymeric nanoparticles via self-assembly. We demonstrate that the encapsulated phosphor is non-toxic with and without illumination. We evaluated two distinct modes of employing the phosphorescent nanoparticles for the measurement of concentrations of oxygen: 1) in vitro, in a 3-D microfluidic tumor model via ratiometric measurements of intensity with an oxygen-insensitive fluorophore as a reference, and 2) in vivo, in mouse vasculature using measurements of phosphorescence lifetime. With both methods, we demonstrated micrometer-scale resolution and absolute calibration to the dissolved oxygen concentration. Based on the ease and customizability of the synthesis of the nanoparticles and the flexibility of their application, these oxygen-sensing polymeric nanoparticles will find a natural home in a range of biological applications, benefiting studies of physiological as well as pathological processes in which oxygen availability and concentration play a critical role.
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