Aminophosphate precursors for the synthesis of near-unity emitting InP quantum dots and their application in liver cancer diagnosis

Environment-friendly InP core/shell quantum dots (QDs) with quantum yield of ∼100% are prepared by aminophosphate precursors. The limit of detection of alpha-fetoprotein for in vitro diagnostics, specific labeling of liver cancer cells, and in vivo tumor-targeted imaging of live mice are comparable to that of the state-of-the-art Cd-QDs-based probes.


InP quantum dots (QDs) are a promising and environment-friendly alternative to Cd-based QDs for in vitro diagnostics and bioimaging applications. However, their poor fluorescence and stability severely limit their biological applications. Herein, we synthesize bright (∼100%) and stable InP-based core/shell QDs by using cost-effective and low-toxic phosphorus source, and then aqueous InP QDs are prepared with quantum yield over 80% by shell engineering. The immunoassay of alpha-fetoprotein can be detected in the widest analytical range of 1–1000 ng ml−1 and the limit of detection of 0.58 ng ml−1 by using those InP QDs-based fluorescent probes, making it the best-performing heavy metal-free detection reported so far, comparable to state-of-the-art Cd-QDs-based probes. Furthermore, the high-quality aqueous InP QDs exhibit excellent performance in specific labeling of liver cancer cells and in vivo tumor-targeted imaging of live mice. Overall, the present work demonstrates the great potential of novel high-quality Cd-free InP QDs in cancer diagnosis and image-guided surgery.

Author list:

Yanbin Zhang, Yanbing Lv, Lin-Song Li, Xue-Jie Zhao, Mei-Xia Zhao*, Huaibin Shen*

How to cite:

Y. Zhang, Y. Lv, L.-S. Li, X.-J. Zhao, M.-X. Zhao, H. Shen, Exploration 2022, 2, 20220082.