A Colorimetric Plasmonic Nanosensor for Dosimetry of Therapeutic Levels of Ionizing Radiation

Modern radiation therapy using highly automated linear accelerators is a complex process that maximizes doses to tumors and minimizes incident dose to normal tissues. Dosimeters can help determine the radiation dose delivered to target diseased tissue while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. However, existing dosimeters can be complex to fabricate, expensive, and cumbersome to operate. Here, we demonstrate studies of a liquid phase, visually evaluated plasmonic nanosensor that detects radiation doses commonly employed in fractionated radiotherapy (1–10 Gy) for tumor ablation. We accomplished this by employing ionizing radiation, in concert with templating lipid surfactant micelles, in order to convert colorless salt solutions of univalent gold ions (Au1) to maroon-colored dispersions of plasmonic gold nanoparticles. Differences in color intensities of nanoparticle dispersions were employed as quantitative indicators of the radiation dose. The nanoparticles thus formed were characterized using UV–vis absorbance spectroscopy, dynamic light scattering, and transmission electron microscopy. The role of lipid surfactants on nanoparticle formation was investigated by varying the chain lengths while maintaining the same headgroup and counterion; the effect of surfactant concentration on detection efficacy was also investigated. The plasmonic nanosensor was able to detect doses as low as 0.5 Gy and demonstrated a linear detection range of 0.5–2 Gy or 5–37 Gy depending on the concentration of the lipid surfactant employed. The plasmonic nanosensor was also able to detect radiation levels in anthropomorphic prostate phantoms when administered together with endorectal balloons, indicating its potential utility as a dosimeter in fractionated radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Taken together, our results indicate that this simple visible nanosensor has strong potential to be used as a dosimeter for validating delivered radiation doses in fractionated radiotherapies in a variety of clinical settings.