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Aggregation and Uptake Kinetics of Gold Nanoparticles in Biological Cells, Using Image Correlation Spectroscopy


A/Prof. James W. M. Chon, A/Prof. Andrew H. A. Clayton

Project Description

Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are one of the most widely used nanoplasmonic building blocks, and its application into linear and nonlinear biomarker and cancer therapy has seen some important breakthroughs in biomedical area. For the full realization of their potential in this area, AuNP uptake, aggregation and its cytotoxicity inside cells have to be studied in more detail.

Currently, inductively coupled plasma atomic emission (ICP-AEP) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS), together with transmission electron microscopy (TEM), have been used to study AuNP uptake inside cells, but are not suitable for live cell imaging due to their destructive nature. Several microscopy techniques have been used to investigate molecular activity at sub-microscopic resolution without destroying cells, but each method has its limitations. For example, image correlation spectroscopy (ICS) is able to characterise molecular aggregations, but is only applicable to non-interacting molecules.

The aim of this PhD is to test a new technique called high order ICS (HICS) to quantify the uptake and aggregation of AuNPs inside live cells. We propose to use HICS together with plasmon coupling. The combination of these techniques overcome the limitations of ICS and plasmon coupling, and provides microscopic and macroscopic information of nanoparticle interactions within a cellular environment. We plan to quantify AuNP uptake and aggregation inside HeLa cells.

This technique could be used in different biological applications including cancer therapy, drug delivery, disease diagnosis and also for probing membrane protein stoichiometry and dynamics. This project is funded by Australian Research Council, funding ID FT110101038 and DP110102870.


  1. Chiara Paviolo, James WM Chon, Andrew HA Clayton, Inhibiting EGFR Clustering and Cell Proliferation with Gold Nanoparticles, Small, 11, 1638-1643, 2015
  2. Giuseppe D Ciccotosto, Noga Kozer, Timothy TY Chow, James WM Chon, Andrew HA Clayton, Aggregation distributions on cells determined by photobleaching image correlation spectroscopy,  Biophys. J., 104, 1056-1064, 2013


A/Prof. James W. M. Chon, Tel: +61 3 9214 4326, email: