Lanthanide-based nanophosphors (NPhs) are herein developed as contrast agents for spectral X-ray imaging, highlighting the chemical, macromolecular and structural differences derived from ligand exchange on computed tomography (CT) and solvent dispersibility. Taking advantage of the ability of spectral X-ray imaging with photon-counting detectors to perform image acquisition, analysis, and processing at different energy windows (bins), enhanced signal of our K-edge materials was derived, improving sensitivity of CT imaging, and differentiation between water, tumor-mimic phantoms, and contrast materials. Our results indicate that the most effective of our oleic acid-stabilized K-edge nanoparticles can achieve 2–4x higher contrast than the examined iodinated molecules, making them suitable for deep tissue imaging of tissues or tumors. On the other hand, ligand exchange yielding poly(acrylic acid)-stabilized K-edge nanoparticles allows for high dispersibility and homogeneity in water, but with a lower contrast due to the high density of the polymer grafted, unless further engineering is probed. This is the first well-defined study that manages to correlate NPh grafting density with CT numbers and water dispersibility, laying the groundwork for the development of the next generation CT-guided diagnostic and/or theranostic materials.
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