Silica nanoparticles have proven to be useful in many bioanalytical and medical applications and have been used in numerous applications during the last decade. Combining the properties of silica nanoparticles and fluorescent dyes that may be used as chemical probes or labels can be relatively easy by simply soaking porous silica nanoparticles in a solution of the dye of interest. Under proper conditions the entrapped dye can stay inside the silica nanoparticle for several hours resulting in a useful probe. In spite of the relative durability of these probes, leaching can still occur. A much better approach is to synthesize silica nanoparticles that have the fluorescent dye covalently attached to the backbone structure of the silica nanoparticle. This can be achieved by using appropriately modified tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) analogues during the silica nanoparticle synthesis. The molar ratio of TEOS and modified TEOS will determine the fluorescent dye load in the silica nanoparticle. Dependent on the chemical stability of the reporting dye either reverse micellar (RM) or Stöber method can be used for silica nanoparticle synthesis. If dye stability allows RM procedure is preferred as it results in a much easier control of the silica nanoparticle reaction itself. Also controlling the size and uniformity of the silica nanoparticles are much easier using RM method. Dependent on the functional groups present in the reporting dye used in preparation of the modified TEOS, the silica nanoparticles can be utilized in many applications such as pH sensor, metal ion sensors, labels, etc. In addition surface activated silica nanoparticles with reactive moieties are also excellent reporters or they can be used as bright fluorescent labels. Many different fluorescent dyes can be used to synthesize silica nanoparticles including visible and NIR dyes. Several bioanalytical applications are discussed including studying amoeba phagocytosis.
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