Why Sona Nanotech’s unique gold nanorods have strong potential in next generation diagnostics and cancer treatment

Sona CEO Darren Rowles and Prof. Zoe Pikramenou at the University of Birmingham

Over the last year, a joint project between the University of Birmingham and Sona Nanotech Inc. has been developing next-generation gold nanorods for tissue imaging.

The ultimate aim of the project, led by Zoe Pikramenou, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Photophysics at the University of Birmingham, is to investigate whether gold nanorods could be used to target cancer cells in the human body.

Cancer is already one of the leading causes of death worldwide and it is expected that the number of new cases of cancer per year will rise to 23.6 million by 2030. This rise demands cutting-edge research to develop targeted therapy to treat various kinds of cancer.

Sona provided its gold nanorods for Prof. Pikramenou and her team to functionalise with transition metals to create luminescent nanorods. 

Here, Prof. Pikramenou writes about the progress of the project to date.


“When Sona Nanotech approached us to use their gold nanorods in our studies we were intrigued. The scientific community is only just beginning to explore the exciting potential of gold nanorods in medical applications such as diagnostics, drug delivery and cancer treatment.

We could see that with its unique CTAB-free gold nanorods, Sona had produced an innovative next-generation product that would be ideally suited for these applications. We were interested to see the potential of Sona’s gold nanorods to create a luminescent nanoprobe used in cell imaging and had high hopes for our collaborative project.

Sona provided their industry-leading gold nanorods and we combined this with our world-leading expertise in design of luminescent nanoparticles to create luminescent nanorods and studied their imaging and detection properties, which provided some exciting results.

We found we could functionalise the nanorods easily and produce different coloured luminescent probes. Due to their size and optical properties we could observe strong luminescent signals in cells.

The characteristics of the nanorods are key attributes that provide versatility and ease of use in cell imaging processes. So, we believe there is a strong potential for developing these nanorods in luminescent nano-sized probes.

A further outcome of the programme is the potential for these complexes to be introduced into lateral flow diagnostic assays where they could be used to detect analytes at levels beyond what is currently possible with the naked eye, therefore improving performance of existing and new products able to meet clinical needs.

We hope to extend our partnership with Sona Nanotech to develop these nanorods in selective targeting within cells and work further on functionalisation of the complexes. Ultimately, we want to produce probes that we can detect in a very sensitive way and use selectively to target cancer cells and produce point-of-care diagnostics.

Diagnostics is a very well-established market for probes, so I could see the nanoprobes developing very fast over the next few years. Therapeutics and tissue detection may be a bit of a longer-term goal, but Sona’s gold nanorods, based on their unique properties, when combined with our novel methodology have very strong potential for that.”

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