Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Andrew Tsourkas


The rapidly progressing field of nanotechnology promises to revolutionize healthcare in the 21st century, with applications in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of diseases. However, before nanoparticulate agents can be brought into clinical use, they must first be developed, optimized, and evaluated in animal models. In the typical pre-clinical paradigm, almost all of the optimization is done at the in vitro level, with only a few select agents reaching the level of animal studies. Since only one experimental nanoparticle formulation can be investigated in a single animal, and in vivo experiments have relatively higher complexity, cost, and time requirements, it is not feasible to evaluate a very large number of agents at the in vivo stage. A major drawback of this approach, however, is that in vitro assays do not always accurately predict how a nanoparticle will perform in animal studies. Therefore, a method that allows many agents to be evaluated in a single animal subject would allow for much more efficient and predictive optimization of nanoparticles. We have found that by incorporating lanthanide tracer metals into nanoparticle formulations, we are successfully able to use inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to quantitatively determine a nanoparticle's blood clearance kinetics, biodistribution, and tumor delivery. This approach was applied to evaluate both passive and active tumor targeting, as well as metabolically directed targeting of nanoparticles to low pH tumor microenvironments. Importantly, we found that these in vivo measurements could be made for many nanoparticle formulations simultaneously, in single animals, due to the high-order multiplexing capability of mass spectrometry. This approach allowed for efficient and reproducible comparison of performance between different nanoparticle formulations, by eliminating the effects of subject-to-subject variability. In the future, we envision that this "higher-throughput" evaluation of agents at the in vivo level, using ICP-MS multiplex analysis, will constitute a powerful tool to accelerate pre-clinical evaluation of nanoparticles in animal models.

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