Tantalum Oxide Nanoparticles as Versatile Contrast Agents for X-ray Computed Tomography

Here we describe the synthesis, characterization and in vitro and in vivo performance of a series of tantalum oxide (TaOx) based nanoparticles (NPs) for computed tomography (CT). Five distinct versions of 9-12 nm diameter silane coated TaOx nanocrystals (NCs) were fabricated by a sol-gel method with varying degrees of hydrophilicity and with or without fluorescence, with the highest reported Ta content to date (78%). Highly hydrophilic NCs were left bare and were evaluated in vivo in mice for micro-CT of full body vasculature, where following intravenous injection, TaOx NCs demonstrate high CT contrast, circulation in blood for ~ 3 h, and eventual accumulation in RES organs; and following injection locally in the mammary gland, where the full ductal tree structure can be clearly delineated. Partially hydrophilic NCs were encapsulated within mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNPs; TaOx@MSNPs) and hydrophobic NCs were encapsulated within poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA; TaOx@PLGA) NPs, serving as potential CT-imagable drug delivery vehicles. Bolus intramuscular injections of TaOx@PLGA NPs and TaOx@MSNPs to mimic the accumulation of NPs at a tumor site produce high signal enhancement in mice. In vitro studies on bare NCs and formuated NPs demonstrate high cytocompatibility and low dissolution of TaOx. This work solidifies that TaOx-based NPs are versatile contrast agents for CT.