A Highly Efficient Red Metal-free Organic Phosphor for Time-Resolved Luminescence Imaging and Photodynamic Therapy

Developing highly efficient red metal-free organic phosphors for biological applications is a formidable challenge. Here, we report a novel molecular design principle to obtain red metal-free organic phosphors with long emission lifetime (504.6 μs) and high phosphorescence efficiency (14.6%) from the isolated molecules in the crystal. Furthermore, the well-dispersed phosphorescent nanodots (PNDs) with the particle size around 5 nm are prepared through polymer-encapsulation in an aqueous solution, which show good biocompatibility and low cytotoxicity. The metal-free PNDs are successfully applied to time-resolved luminescence imaging to eliminate background fluorescence interference both in vitro and vivo as well as effective photodynamic anticancer therapy for the first time. This work will not only pave a pathway to develop highly efficient metal-free RTP materials but also expand the scope of their applications to biomedical fields.