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Research Highlight | Center for Nanoscale Materials

Telomerase-activated probe for cancer diagnosis, treatment assessment and drug screening

In a paper appearing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers report a telomerase-activated MRI probe that could be applicable to anticancer drug development and more.

Scientific Achievement

A telomerase-activated probe has been developed based on distance-dependent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It connects ferroferric oxide nanoparticles and Gd-DOTA (Gd(III) 1,4,7,10-tetra-azacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tetraacetic acid) complex via telomerase-responsive DNA motifs.

Significance and Impact

This probe provides deeper tissue penetration, consistent monitoring of tumor growth kinetics during progression and in response to drug treatment, and in situ screening of telomerase inhibitors in whole-animal models. Thus, the probe is an attractive tool for anticancer drug development.

Research Details

  • Telomerase is ribonucleoprotein that is low in healthy cells, but elevated by about 90% in cancer cells.
  • Gd-DOTA-conjugated oligonucleotides were liberated from the surface of ferroferric oxide nanoparticles via a DNA strand displacement, restoring the T1 signal of the Gd-DOTA for direct sensing of the telomerase activity.

Work was performed in part at the Center for Nanoscale Materials. 


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The Center for Nanoscale Materials is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers, premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale supported by the DOE Office of Science. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit https://​sci​ence​.osti​.gov/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​-​a​t​-​a​-​G​lance.

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