Microscopic observations have played a key role in recent advancements in nanotechnology-based biomedical sciences. In particular, multi-scale observation is necessary to fully understand the nano-bio interfaces where a large amount of unprecedented phenomena have been reported. This review describes how to address the physicochemical and biological interactions of nanocarriers within the biological environments using microscopic tools. The imaging techniques are categorized based on the size scale of detection. For observation of the nano-scale biological interactions of nanocarriers, we discuss atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). For the micro to macro-scale (in vitro and in vivo) observation, we focus on confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) as well as in vivo imaging systems such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), and IVIS®.
Additionally, recently developed combined techniques such as AFM-CLSM, correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM), and SEM-spectroscopy are also discussed. In this review, we describe how each technique helps elucidate certain physicochemical and biological activities of nanocarriers such as dendrimers, polymers, liposomes, and polymeric/inorganic nanoparticles, thus providing a toolbox for bioengineers, pharmaceutical scientists, biologists, and research clinicians.
Keywords: nanocarriers, microscopy, multi-scale observation, nano-bio interactions