MR contrast agents in cancer detection and therapy

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Manjula Puthenedam, PhD
Associate Editor

Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging using molecular probes has shown promise in detection and therapy of cancers in preclinical models. Recent studies in breast and ovarian cancer models have illustrated the potential to apply this approach to many human cancer studies.

In a study published in Cancer Research, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston combined an iron oxide nanoparticle with a therapeutic nucleic acid into one construct, and tracked the new agent using fluorescence and MR imaging. The researchers found that the construct shut down the expression of the targeted gene in breast cancer cells grown in culture and in mice bearing human breast tumors. The researchers subsequently demonstrated that the construct had the same effect on both human pancreatic cancer cells and colon cancer cells and was taken up rapidly by the cells.

Another study showed that ovarian cancer monoclonal antibodies coupled to ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticle conjugates have the potential to be useful as an MR imaging contrast agent for early detection and differentiation of ovarian cancers in nude mice. The study was performed by researchers from Peking University People’s Hospital in Beijing and published in Academic Radiology.

However, many steps lie ahead before clinical translation of MR molecular probes. For example, changes in stem cell proliferation depend on the type of ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide MR contrast agent used. Labeling methods need to be optimized for every cell type to ensure that there is sensitive MR detection without associated toxicity, according to a study published by researchers from Belgium and Spain in this month’s issue of Cell Transplantation.

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Manjula Puthenedam, PhD