In 2001, Professor Ben Zhong Tang, along with coworkers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, discovered a new type of luminogen that display a special property called aggregation-induced emission (AIE). This means that when the molecules aggregate into a solid their luminescence actually increases. This discovery has allowed scientists to create a whole range of different luminescent materials for a variety of purposes.
However the hunt is still on for better luminogens. For example, when luminogens are used for biomedical applications, it is important that they are not only relatively low-cost to produce, but that they are biocompatible – that is, that they don’t interfere with the cells of the body in a negative way.
For this reason, Ben Zhong Tang and his colleagues have been working on extracting luminogens from plants. In a new paper, they announce a luminogen called berberine chloride, which can be extracted from several types of herbal plants.
In preliminary experiments, they have shown that berberine chloride can successfully be used to stain liver cells without causing them harm. The team hopes that this luminogen could be used for tissue imaging in the future, helping to diagnose disease in the liver.
This article is free to read in our open access, flagship journal Chemical Science: Yuan Gu et al., Chem. Sci., 2018, Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1039/C8SC01635F. You can access all of our ChemSci Picks in this article collection. Read more ChemSciPicks