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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Small Solutions for Greener Chemistry

Dr Frances Neville, Dr Alexander Vakurov, Dr Michael Broderick and Dr Paul Millner at the Biosensors and Biocatalysis Group at the University of Leeds analyse nanoparticles as a means of achieving a more environmentally friendly approach to the production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals

Nanoparticles are generally thought of as particles that are smaller than 1μm. They can be formed of a wide range of materials, but those that are most common are metal oxides, ceramics, metals, polymers and lipids.

INORGANIC AND BIOINORGANIC NANOPARTICLES

The majority of inorganic particles have a similar fundamental structure; generally there is a central core that can be used to vary specific particle attributes such as fluorescence, optical, magnetic and electronic properties (see Figure 1, adapted from (1)).

Nanoparticles may be further modified by being coated with a protective layer to protect the particle from degradation. This layer can be functionalised so that it is able to form electrostatic or covalent bonds with biomolecules such as peptides, proteins and oligonucleotides (see Figure 1). Although the majority of nanostructures are spherical, other nanostructured morphologies such as flakes and dendritic shapes can be formulated (2).

Nanoparticles have a number of properties which can be exploited. These include very high surface area and magnetic, optical, electrical, thermal, chemical and mechanical properties. Quantum dots are nanoparticles with sizes 2-10nm, which are fluorescent and whose cores contain elements such as cadmium, zinc or selenide (see Figure 1).

They can be used for visualisation with biological applications. This is limited by the toxic effect of the metal core but often the toxicity can be ameliorated by various protective coatings. Magnetic nanoparticles are commonly produced and can be used for enhancing medical imaging, and for drug delivery when coated with organic layers for bioconjugation of drugs. Metal nanoparticles in combination with fluorescent active molecules can be used in imaging, which combines optical and magnetic methods. Metal nanoparticles can also be used for the bioseparation of nucleic acids, proteins and cells (3).

Nanoparticles are often below the critical wavelength of light and therefore their transparency can be exploited. This results in nanoparticles such as silicates being used for coatings and films. Silicate nanoparticles can also act synergistically with flame retardants due to their thermal properties. Nanosilicates are also used in composite materials to improve the mechanical strength of the material.

Finally, nanoparticles offer an extremely high surface to volume ratio, which increases with the decreasing size of the nanoparticles. This is relevant for access to surface (bio)catalysts and for sensor applications.


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Dr Frances Neville gained her BSc at the University of Surrey and her PhD at the University of Leeds. She is now working as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow within the Biosensors and Biocatalysis Group (BBG) at the University of Leeds on a European project called SANTS. She is interested in how in vivo self-assembled nanostructures and structural processes may be observed in vitro in conjunction with applications in the biosensors and membrane mimics fields.

Dr Alexander Vakurov gained his degree and PhD at the Lomonosov Moscow State University. He works within the Biosensors and Biocatalysis Group as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow on the European project COMBIO. He is interested in the study and preparation of polymeric nanoparticles in micelles for enzymes and antibody immobilisation.

Dr Michael Broderick gained his BSc at the University of Stirling and his PhD at the University of Glasgow. He is a member of the Biosensors and Biocatalysis Group at the University of Leeds, where he works as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow and a Manager on Project SANTS. He is interested in the use of peptides to produce biosilica to be used in biosensor production and enzyme stabilisation.

Dr Paul Millner gained his BSc and PhD at the University of Leeds. Originally a protein chemist/molecular biologist working on plant cell signalling, he is now a Reader in Biotechnology at the same institution. He heads the Biosensors and Biocatalysis Group which is concerned with applications of nanotechnology and particularly affinity directed self-assembling systems to these areas which are directed respectively at reagent-less point-of-care type diagnostics and green chemical solutions, respectively.

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Dr Frances Neville
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Dr Alexander Vakurov
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Dr Michael Broderick
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Dr Paul Millner
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