Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Nanoscale Science and Engineering


Nanoscale Engineering

Content Description

1 online resource (x, 120 pages) : PDF file, illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Magnus Bergkvist

Committee Members

Alain Diebold, Kathleen Dunn, David Lawrence, Yubing Xie


Aptamer, MS2 Bacteriophage, Nanobioengineering, Photodynamic Therapy, Porphyrin, Virus, Photochemotherapy, Porphyrins, Photosensitizing compounds

Subject Categories

Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering | Nanoscience and Nanotechnology | Virology


The research presented in this work details the use of a viral capsid as an addressable delivery vessel of photoactive compounds for use in photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy is a treatment that involves the interaction of light with a photosensitizing molecule to create singlet oxygen, a reactive oxygen species. Overproduction of singlet oxygen in cells can cause oxidative damage leading to cytotoxicity and eventually cell death. Challenges with the current generation of FDA-approved photosensitizers for photodynamic therapy primarily stem from their lack of tissue specificity. This work describes the packaging of photoactive cationic porphyrins inside the MS2 bacteriophage capsid, followed by external modification of the capsid with cancer cell-targeting G-quadruplex DNA aptamers to generate a tumor-specific photosensitizing agent. First, a cationic porphyrin is loaded into the capsids via nucleotide-driven packaging, a process that involves charge interaction between the porphyrin and the RNA inside the capsid. Results show that over 250 porphyrin molecules associate with the RNA within each MS2 capsid. Removal of RNA from the capsid severely inhibits the packaging of the cationic porphyrins. Porphyrin-virus constructs were then shown to photogenerate singlet oxygen, and cytotoxicity in non-targeted photodynamic treatment experiments. Next, each porphyrin-loaded capsid is externally modified with approximately 60 targeting DNA aptamers by employing a heterobifunctional crosslinking agent. The targeting aptamer is known to bind the protein nucleolin, a ubiquitous protein that is overexpressed on the cell surface by many cancer cell types. MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cells and MCF-10A human mammary epithelial cells were selected as an in vitro model for breast cancer and normal tissue, respectively. Fluorescently tagged virus-aptamer constructs are shown to selectively target MCF-7 cells versus MCF-10A cells. Finally, results are shown in which porphyrin-virus-aptamer constructs selectively target and kill cancer cells versus non-cancer cells. Specifically, the results show that MS2 is a viable candidate as an addressable nanodelivery vessel of photoactive compounds, and the implications are that the nucleotide-driven packaging approach for modifying MS2 can be used to impart new functionalities for a host of diagnostic or therapeutic applications.