Circulating tumor cell identification by functionalized silver-gold nanorods with multicolor, super-enhanced SERS and photothermal resonances

Sci Rep. 2014 May 9;4:4752. doi: 10.1038/srep04752.


Nanotechnology has been extensively explored for cancer diagnostics. However, the specificity of current methods to identify simultaneously several cancer biomarkers is limited due to color overlapping of bio-conjugated nanoparticles. Here, we present a technique to increase both the molecular and spectral specificity of cancer diagnosis by using tunable silver-gold nanorods with narrow surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) and high photothermal contrast. The silver-gold nanorods were functionalized with four Raman-active molecules and four antibodies specific to breast cancer markers and with leukocyte-specific CD45 marker. More than two orders of magnitude of SERS signal enhancement was observed from these hybrid nanosystems compared to conventional gold nanorods. Using an antibody rainbow cocktail, we demonstrated highly specific detection of single breast cancer cells in unprocessed human blood. By integrating multiplex targeting, multicolor coding, and multimodal detection, our approach has the potential to improve multispectral imaging of individual tumor cells in complex biological environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / chemistry
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Gold / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Metal Nanoparticles
  • Nanotubes / chemistry*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / chemistry*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Silver / chemistry*
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman / methods
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance / methods


  • Antibodies
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens