Theranostics 2019; 9(18):5315-5331. doi:10.7150/thno.34418

Research Paper

Molecular Engineering of Near-Infrared Light-Responsive BODIPY-Based Nanoparticles with Enhanced Photothermal and Photoacoustic Efficiencies for Cancer Theranostics

Duyang Gao1,2#, Boyu Zhang3,1#, Yubin Liu1, Dehong Hu2, Zonghai Sheng2✉, Xuanjun Zhang1✉, Zhen Yuan1✉

1. Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Macau, Macau SAR, 999078, PR China
2. Paul C. Lauterbur Research Center for Biomedical Imaging, Institute of Biomedical and Health Engineering, Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Ultrasound Imaging and Therapy, Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen, 518055, China.
3. College of Medical Laboratory, Dalian Medical University, No. 9 West Section LvShun South Road, Dalian 116044, P. R. China
# Duyang Gao and Boyu Zhang contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Gao D, Zhang B, Liu Y, Hu D, Sheng Z, Zhang X, Yuan Z. Molecular Engineering of Near-Infrared Light-Responsive BODIPY-Based Nanoparticles with Enhanced Photothermal and Photoacoustic Efficiencies for Cancer Theranostics. Theranostics 2019; 9(18):5315-5331. doi:10.7150/thno.34418. Available from

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Background: Engineering a single organic-molecule-based nanoparticle integrating precise diagnosis and effective therapy is of great significance for cancer treatment and future clinical applications but remains a great challenge. The goal of this study is to explore small organic molecule-based nanoparticles with high photothermal conversion efficiency for photoacoustic imaging-guided therapy.

Methods: Heptacyclic B, O-chelated BODIPY structure (namely Boca-BODIPY) with strong near-infrared (NIR) absorption was designed as a theranostic agent through simply molecular engineering, in which heavy atoms and alkyl chains were introduced to promote its application for tumor theranostics. The Boca-BODIPY molecules are further encapsulated in reduced bovine serum albumin (BSA) through self-assembly.

Results: The BSA-Boca-BODIPY exhibited excellent biocompatibility, extraordinary stability and high photothermal conversion efficiency up to 58.7%. The nanoparticles could dramatically enhance photoacoustic contrast of the tumor region, and the signal-to-noise ratio was increased about 14 times at 10 h post intravenous injection in 4T1 tumor-bearing mice. In addition, the nanoassemblies can efficiently convert laser energy (808 nm, 0.75 w cm-2, 5min) into hyperthermia for tumor ablation. Under the photoacoustic imaging-guided photothermal therapy (PTT), the 4T1 cancer cells were efficiently killed, no tumor recurrence and PTT-induced toxicity is observed.

Conclusions: Molecular engineering is a promising way to design organic-molecule-based nanoparticles for cancer theranostics. Other organic-molecule-based nanoparticles which show great promise for imaging-guided cancer precision therapy can be engineered through this method.

Keywords: BODIPY molecular engineering, photoacoustic imaging, photothermal therapy, near-infrared absorption, theragnostic nanoparticles