To create the biomarkers, the company has leveraged nanomaterials that are commonly used in displays and lighting.
Called quantum dots, the nanomaterials are made from a semiconductor material and approximately 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. They are commonly made using toxic materials.
The company’s bio-compatible quantum dots, named VIVODOTS, are currently being studied as fluorescent biomarkers.
Nanoco life science chief technology officer Dr Imad Naasani said: “Quantum dots are fluorescent so, if you hit them with energy, they emit different wavelengths of light. Their properties make them attractive for many uses.
“Because they are very stable, bright and don’t photobleach they can be used for real-time imaging of targeted tissue. We can make them bind to a tumour, for example.”
Naasani added that the materials can be potentially used to track stem cells in the body after injection to find whether they reach targeted tissues.
The company is working on an early and simplified diagnosis of skin cancers and has partnered with the University College London to work on image-guided surgery for pancreatic cancer.
It is hoped that Vivodots nanoparticles could be linked with antibodies and injected into the patient to identify cancerous cells during endoscopies.
They could also have applications in image-guided surgery and be used to kill remaining cells following surgery.
The company, with funding from Innovate UK, is performing early pre-clinical safety studies of its quantum dots and expects them to be available for clinical use in five to seven years.