Optical imaging is a rapidly progressing medical technique that can benefit from the development of new and improved optical imaging agents suitable for use in vivo. However, the molecular rules detailing what optical agents can be processed and encapsulated into in vivo presentable forms are not known. We here present the screening of series of highly hydrophobic porphyrin, phthalocyanine, and naphthalocyanine dye macrocycles through a self-assembling Flash NanoPrecipitation process to form a series of water dispersible dye nanoparticles (NPs). Ten out of 19 tested dyes could be formed into poly(ethylene glycol) coated nanoparticles 60-150 nm in size, and these results shed insight on dye structural criteria that are required to permit dye assembly into NPs. Dye NPs display a diverse range of absorbance profiles with absorbance maxima within the NIR region, and have absorbance that can be tuned by varying dye choice or by doping bulking materials in the NP core. Particle properties such as dye core load and the compositions of co-core dopants were varied, and subsequent effects on photoacoustic and fluorescence signal intensities were measured. These results provide guidelines for designing NPs optimized for photoacoustic imaging and NPs optimized for fluorescence imaging. This work provides important details for dye NP engineering, and expands the optical imaging tools available for use.
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