A team of physicists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a technique using gold nanoparticles and light that quantifies the mucus that lines within lungs’ airways. This new technology is potentially useful for cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients, since it would allow clinicians to monitor the success of therapeutics. The results were presented at the The Optical Society’s (OSA) 98th Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics, held Oct. 19-23 in Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Amy Oldenburg, a physicist working on biomedical imaging systems at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, commented, “People who are suffering from certain lung diseases have thickened mucus. In healthy adults, hair-like cell appendages called cilia line the airways and pull mucus out of the lungs and into the throat. But if the mucus is too viscous it can become trapped in the lungs, making breathing more difficult and also failing to remove pathogens that can cause chronic infections.”
In chronic lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, treatment often relies on mucolytic drugs that act by making the mucus less sticky and easier to cough out of the airways. However, monitoring methods to evaluate the efficacy and progression of the treatment in affected patients are lacking.
The work by Oldenburg and colleagues provides a monitoring system for clinicians. The team followed coated gold nanorods at the surface of mucus samples by analyzing how laser light reflected off the nanoparticles. Thus, if the mucus is thicker, the nanorods will diffuse slowly. Since in the human body mucus is not fixed and it moves through the cell surface, the authors verified that the method worked in sliding mucus as well.
Now, to ensure that the method is potentially safe for clinics, the authors will determine if the gold nanorods can be cleared from patients’ bodies. Additionally, the team is further investigating mucus properties in other body parts, delivery methods for the gold nanorods, and how to reach patients’ airways with their imaging system.
Nozomi Nishimura of Cornell University and one of the FiO subcommittee chairs commented, “This is a great example of interdisciplinary work in which optical scientists can meet a specific need in the clinic. As these types of optical technologies continue to make their way into medical practice, it will both expand the market for the technology as well as improve patient care.”