Korea University and Ewha Womans University Researchers Pioneer Breakthrough in Biomedical Imaging with Enzyme-Activated Near-Infrared Fluorescent Probes


Korea University and Ewha Womans University researchers have unveiled cutting-edge advancements in the realm of biomedical research, introducing enzyme-activated near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent probes with transformative applications. These probes, designed to visualize and measure enzyme activity, offer non-invasive, real-time insights, surpassing conventional techniques.

Enzymes, crucial for cellular functions, often become associated with diseases like cancer when their activity becomes abnormal. Traditional imaging methods face limitations in contrast agents, sensitivity, and spatio-temporal resolution. The researchers’ focus on fluorescent probes provides a solution for overcoming these challenges, enabling dynamic visualization of enzyme activity.

The newly published review, authored by Professor Jun-Seok Lee from Korea University College of Medicine and Professor Juyoung Yoon from Ewha Womans University, explores the diverse applications of enzyme-activated NIR fluorescent probes in biomedical research and medicine. The review emphasizes the probes’ advantages over conventional approaches, offering non-invasive monitoring of enzymatic activity in vitro and in vivo.

Enzyme-activated fluorescent probes typically consist of a fluorophore, a linker, and an enzyme recognition unit. When encountering the target enzyme, these probes activate the NIR fluorophore, emitting detectable fluorescence. The design strategies outlined in the review cover applications in various studies, including metabolic processes, neurotransmission, cell growth, and cell death.

NIR-fluorescent probes have become instrumental in biomedical imaging, providing highly sensitive and real-time measurements of enzyme activity in cells and animal disease models. Their selectivity facilitates the detection of aberrant enzymes specific to certain diseases, aiding in early diagnosis. The probes also contribute to surgical guidance, outlining tumor margins or specific tissues.

The applications of enzyme-activated fluorescent probes extend beyond medical realms to environmental sensing, food safety, and water and air analysis. These probes boast high specificity, sensitivity, biocompatibility, ease of use, and tunable properties, positioning them as invaluable tools in healthcare and biomedical research.

As the research lays the foundation for future studies, the authors highlight the significant potential of these probes to revolutionize healthcare. Professor Jun-Seok Lee and Professor Juyoung Yoon conclude that despite considerable progress, additional research is essential to broaden the bioapplications of NIR fluorescent probes.

The review article, titled “Recent advances in enzyme-activated NIR fluorescent probes for biological applications,” was made available online on September 27, 2023, and is set to be published in Volume 168 of Trends in Analytical Chemistry in November 2023.


About Korea University College of Medicine
Korea University College of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools in South Korea, stands as a historical cornerstone in medical education. Founded in 1928 as Chosun Women’s Medical Training Institute, it later merged with Korea University, producing over 7,000 graduates who have made significant contributions as physicians and public health advocates globally.

About the Authors

  • Prof. Juyoung Yoon: Distinguished faculty at Ewha Womans University’s Department of Chemistry and Nanoscience, Prof. Yoon is globally recognized, ranking among the top 1% researchers by Clarivate Analytics for three consecutive years. With over 30 patents and impactful contributions, his research combines academic depth with practical relevance.
  • Prof. Jun-Seok Lee: An associate professor at Korea University College of Medicine, Prof. Lee specializes in chemical sensing techniques and chemoproteomics. His research, focusing on bioimaging probe development, demonstrates academic excellence and practical application, making him a notable figure in the scientific community.

Note: This news article is a creative synthesis and adaptation based on the provided information.

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