Delivering quantum dots into cells: strategies, progress and remaining issues
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The use of semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) in biological sensing and labeling continues to grow with each year. Current and projected applications include use as fluorescent labels for cellular labeling, intracellular sensors, deep-tissue and tumor imaging agents, sensitizers for photodynamic therapy, and more recently interest has been sparked in using them as vectors for studying nanoparticle-mediated drug delivery. Many of these applications will ultimately require the QDs to undergo targeted intracellular delivery, not only to specific cells, but also to a variety of subcellular compartments and organelles. It is apparent that this issue will be critical in determining the efficacy of using QDs, and indeed a variety of other nanoparticles, for these types of applications. In this review, we provide an overview of the current methods for delivering QDs into cells. Methods that are covered include facilitated techniques such as those that utilize specific peptide sequences or polymer delivery reagents and active methods such as electroporation and microinjection. We critically examine the benefits and liabilities of each strategy and illustrate them with selected examples from the literature. Several important related issues such as QD size and surface coating, methods for QD biofunctionalization, cellular physiology and toxicity are also discussed. Finally, we conclude by providing a perspective of how this field can be expected to develop in the future.