Optical imaging probes have played a major role in detecting and monitoring a variety of diseases. In particular, nonlinear optical imaging probes, such as second harmonic generating (SHG) nanoprobes, hold great promise as clinical contrast agents, as they can be imaged with little background signal and unmatched long-term photostability. As their chemical composition often includes transition metals, the use of inorganic SHG nanoprobes can raise long-term health concerns. Ideally, contrast agents for biomedical applications should be degraded in vivo without any long-term toxicological consequences to the organism. Here, we developed biodegradable harmonophores (bioharmonophores) that consist of polymer-encapsulated, self-assembling peptides that generate a strong SHG signal. When functionalized with tumor cell surface markers, these reporters can target single cancer cells with high detection sensitivity in zebrafish embryos in vivo. Thus, bioharmonophores will enable an innovative approach to cancer treatment using targeted high-resolution optical imaging for diagnostics and therapy.
Keywords: biodegradable; ferroelectric; imaging; second harmonic generation; self-assembly.