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Development of metal-thermogel nanocomposite for remote triggered drug release

Department of Physics and Astronomy

London United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Applied Chemistry Biochemistry Chemical Engineering Inorganic Chemistry Organic Chemistry Pharmaceutical Chemistry Physical Chemistry Synthetic Chemistry

About the Project

This project aims to incorporate chemical synthesis, characterization and biofunctionalization of shape variant nanoparticles in stimuli responsive polymers to realize remote controlled smart composite materials for triggered applications.

The “smartness” of the “smart” materials here mainly refers to the response of a material to its external environment. The range of stimuli responsive polymers has been limited so far to temperature, pH, enzyme, chemical and ionic triggers. These triggers are limited in applications because it is an external and localized trigger that has to be applied to the system. Thus, there is a clear need to develop materials which can be triggered from a remote distance. Such a system would preferably be triggered from a distance and the stimuli be activated from within the system internally. Such materials would have several applications, namely the nanoparticles-thermogel composite can be used for drug release, skin care, therapeutic applications etc. Laser light can be used as remote stimuli.

We proposed the use of heat generated in situ to trigger the gelation of the thermogel as an example of stimuli-responsive “smart” materials. We’ll mainly focus on noble metallic nanoparticles. The energy source is laser. With this the remote controlled triggering would be possible. Noble metal nanocrystals exhibit unique optical properties, absorbing light from UV to NIR depending their shapes and compositions. Upon laser irradiation matching its absorption peak, the incident light will be absorbed and converted into heat through the photothermal effect. The heat will then dissipate into the surrounding, and the rise in temperature will cause the thermo-responsive polymer to undergo a phase change. i.e. noble metal-thermogel nanocarriers can be used load drugs, and remote controlled drug release can be triggered by laser.

The scopes include (1) plasmonic nanostructures through bottom up synthesis, by tailoring their shapes and composition to tune their absorption spectra, (2) studying their plasmonic properties via EELS mapping, (3) formation of metal nanocrystals-thermogel composites. (4) Testing remote triggered gelation, and demonstrate the remote controlled drug release using such system.

Prof Thanh has extensive experience in synthesis, functionalization of nanoparticles (noble metal, e.g. Au, Ag and magnetic nanoparticles).1,2 Tunable gold nanorods with high monodispersity have been obtained for various sensing applications.3 Dr Li (Deputy Department Head at IMRE) has long standing experience in thermogel development for fundamental research.4 Dr Ye from IMRE A*STAR, Singapore, is a well-established scientist in development and applications of nanomaterials5-8

In this project, the student will receive training from Prof Thanh’s lab on bottom up synthesis, and from Dr Ye’s lab on EELS mapping of surface plasmon and demonstration of photothermal effect, and from Dr Li’s lab on thermogelling polymers.

Due to large number of applications, only outstanding students with national awards and research publications are short-listed and may be contacted.  

   The A*STAR programme is a Collaborative Research Programme between MAPS Faculty of UCL and A*STAR of Singapore    

    - 3 years tuition fees @home rate.    

    - stipend for year 1 and first 6 months of year 4 (total 1.5 years at standard Research Council level).    

    - stipend of S$2,500/month and project consumables for research in Singapore during years 2 and 3.    

    - one-off relocation allowance of S$1,000, a one-time airfare grant of S$1,500 plus medical insurance.    

Funding Notes

• Irish citizens: continue to be treated as home students
• Pre-settled status: those with pre-settled status and 3 years’ residence in the UK, EEA, Gibraltar, Switzerland or any British/EU overseas territory will be eligible – “unless that residence was wholly or mainly for the purpose of education”.
• Settled status: those who have been granted settled status under the EUSS will ‘generally’ be eligible for student financial support and home fee status if they have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years


1. Thanh, N. T. K., Rosenzweig, Z. (2002). Development of an aggregation based immunoassay for anti-protein A using gold nanoparticles. Analytical Chemistry 74, 1624-1628.
2. Thanh, N. T. K. (Ed.) (2012). Magnetic Nanoparticles: From Fabrication to Clinical Applications. 22 chapters, 616 Pages. Boca Raton, London, New York: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis
3. R. M. Pallares, X. Su, S. H. Lim, Thanh, N. T. K., Fine-Tuning Gold Nanorods Dimensions and Plasmonic Properties Using the Hofmeister Salt Effects. Journal of Material Chemistry C. 2015, 4, 53-61
4. Z. Li, X. J. Loh, “Water soluble polyhydroxyalkanoates: future materials for therapeutic applications”, Chemical Society Reviews 44 (10) 2865-2879, 2015
5. E. Y. Ye, K. Y. Win, H. R. Tan, M. Lin, C. P. Teng, A. Mlayah, M. Y. Han, “Plasmonic gold nanocrosses with multidirectional excitation and strong photothermal effect”, Journal of the American Chemical Society 133 (22) 8506-8509, 2011.
6. Z. Li, E. Y. Ye, X. J. Loh, “Recent advances of using hybrid nanocarriers in remotely controlled therapeutic delivery”, Small 12 (35) 4782-4806, 2016.
7. E. Y. Ye, X. J. Loh, “Plymerical hydrogels and nanoparticles: a merging and emerging field”, Australian Journal of Chemistry 66 (9), 997-1007, 2013.
8. E. Y. Ye, M. D. Regulacio, S. Y. Zhang, M. Y. Han, “Anisotropically branched metal nanostructures”, Chemical Society Review 44 (17) 6001-6017, 2015.

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