Tracking the fates of iron-labeled tumor cells in vivo using magnetic particle imaging
The use of imaging to detect and monitor the movement and accumulation of cells in living subjects can provide significant insights that can improve our understanding of metastasis and guide therapeutic development. For cell tracking using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), cells are labeled with iron oxides and the effects of the iron on water provides contrast. However, due to low specificity and difficulties in quantification with MRI, other modalities and approaches need to be developed. Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI) is an emerging imaging technique which directly detects iron, allowing for a specific, quantitative and sensitive readout. Here, we use MPI to image iron-labeled tumor cells longitudinally, from implantation and growth at a primary site to movement to distant anatomic sites. In vivo bioluminescent imaging (BLI) was used to localize tumor metastases and computed tomography (CT) allowed for correlation of these signals to anatomic locations. These three imaging modalities provide information on immune escape and metastasis of iron-labeled, and unlabeled, tumor cells, and the accumulation of cell-free iron contrast over time. We localized iron signals by MPI and tumor cells via BLI, and correlated these positive contrast images with CT scans to reveal the anatomic sites with cancer cells; histologic analysis confirmed the presence of iron-labeled tumor cells in the tissues, suggesting that the metastatic cells retained enough iron for MPI detection. The use of multi-modality cell tracking reveals the movement, accumulation and fates of labeled cells that will be helpful understanding cancer progression and guiding the development of targeted therapies.