Dual-modality hafnium oxide nanocrystals for imaging and identification of sentinel lymph nodes in breast cancer

01 October 2021 → 30 September 2023
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Nanochemistry
    • Organic chemical synthesis
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Medical imaging and therapy not elsewhere classified
    • Cancer diagnosis
    • Oncological surgery
  • Engineering and technology
    • Medical nanotechnology
sentinel lymph node nanoparticle breast cancer surgery CT fluorescence
Project description

Breast cancer is the most predominant type of cancer worldwide. Surgical removal of the tumour and possibly affected lymph nodes is the primary form of care in early-stage breast cancer. The at-risk lymph nodes, the so called Sentinel Lymph Nodes (SLNs), are identified by injection of radioactive nanoparticles, sometimes combined with injection of a blue dye. The procedure exposes both patient and surgeons to ionizing radiation and features complex pharmacokinetics.

In this collaborative project with the Ghent University Hospital we aim to improve imaging methods for SLN identification. We intend to provide a proof-of-concept that a dual-modality compound which combines X-ray CT (computed tomography) with fluorescence (near-infrared light) can prove to be an optimsed alternative to the current clinically used compounds.

For this project, the SCRiPTS group of the Department of Chemistry will continue to build on their existing knowledge to synthesize biocompatible nanoparticles with high stability and a very small size. Our nanoparticles of choice have a high density and they provide (as shown by our preliminary data) better CT contrast than current products available on the clinical markets. To provide the fluorescence functionality, we will synthesize custom organic ligands and use them to functionalize the nanoparticles with a clinically approved near-infrared dye. Through the strong collaboration between the SCRiPTS group, the preclinical Infinity Lab and the Ghent University Hospital’s Women’s Clinic, we will test the performance of the dual-modality nanoparticles in mice, and directly compare this with the current state-of-the-art methods.
Our approach will combine two imaging modalities in one product, this would simplify clinical workflow and can be integrated into already existing clinical infrastructure (CT-scanner, C-arm, clinical grade fluorescence imaging devices). We see our product as having great potential of achieving clinical translation making this proof-of-concept project the logical next step towards implementation of a product that could improve patient quality of care and patient quality of life.