Imagine if it were possible to follow therapeutic cells as they move inside the body, and directly observe their action in a straightforward and non-invasive manner? Recently, researchers from Prof. Popovtzer’s lab at the Faculty of Engineering of Bar Ilan University in Israel have demonstrated a new method for tracking the activity of therapeutic immune cells and stem cells in animal models. Their non-invasive, quantitative method – recently described in WIREs Nanomedicine & Nanobiotechnology – has the potential to provide important support for clinicians seeking to monitor the success or failure of cell therapy procedures.
Cell therapy is the transplantation of living cells for the treatment of various diseases and injuries. The newly developed cell tracking method uses a combination of CT as an imaging modality, and gold nanoparticles as labeling agents. Gold nanoparticles have proven to be highly valuable for various applications in biomedical research. In this method they are used as CT contrast agents for imaging the transplanted therapeutic cells, and achieving real-time tracking of the cells as they target a disease. First, the cells were labeled with gold nanoparticles in vitro. Next, when these ‘golden’ cells were transplanted into live mice, examination with whole-body CT resulted in a visual signal, revealing how these cells accumulate at the target.
One of the most exciting findings of this study was that labeling with gold nanoparticles did not in any way affect T-cell or stem cell function. In the future, scientists Meir and Popovtzer plan to apply this technique to other types of therapeutic cells. They expect that the approach could prove useful on a wider scale, helping to evaluate pre-clinical and clinical cell-based treatments for conditions ranging from depression and neurodegeneration to muscular dystrophy and cancer. The ‘golden’ cells may someday become an important tool for tracking and evaluating the fate of any type of transplanted cells used for disease therapy.
Text contributed by the authors. Image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock