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PLoS One. 2010 Feb 23;5(2):e9364. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009364.

Non-invasive detection of a small number of bioluminescent cancer cells in vivo.

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  • 1Caliper Life Sciences Inc., Alameda, California, United States of America.


Early detection of tumors can significantly improve the outcome of tumor treatment. One of the most frequently asked questions in cancer imaging is how many cells can be detected non-invasively in a live animal. Although many factors limit such detection, increasing the light emission from cells is one of the most effective ways of overcoming these limitations. Here, we describe development and utilization of a lentiviral vector containing enhanced firefly luciferase (luc2) gene. The resulting single cell clones of the mouse mammary gland tumor (4T1-luc2) showed stable light emission in the range of 10,000 photons/sec/cell. In some cases individual 4T1-luc2 cells inserted under the skin of a nu/nu mouse could be detected non-invasively using a cooled CCD camera in some cases. In addition, we showed that only few cells are needed to develop tumors in these mice and tumor progression can be monitored right after the cells are implanted. Significantly higher luciferase activity in these cells allowed us to detect micrometastases in both, syngeneic Balb/c and nu/nu mice.

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