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Nanomedicine (Lond). 2012 Mar;7(3):429-45. doi: 10.2217/nnm.12.12.

Advances in molecular imaging: targeted optical contrast agents for cancer diagnostics.

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Rice University, Bioengineering Department, 6100 Main Street, Bioengineering, MS 142, Houston, TX 77005-1892, USA.


Over the last three decades, our understanding of the molecular changes associated with cancer development and progression has advanced greatly. This has led to new cancer therapeutics targeted against specific molecular pathways; such therapies show great promise to reduce mortality, in part by enabling physicians to tailor therapy for patients based on a molecular profile of their tumor. Unfortunately, the tools for definitive cancer diagnosis - light microscopic examination of biopsied tissue stained with nonspecific dyes - remain focused on the analysis of tissue ex vivo. There is an important need for new clinical tools to support the molecular diagnosis of cancer. Optical molecular imaging is emerging as a technique to help meet this need. Targeted, optically active contrast agents can specifically label extra- and intracellular biomarkers of cancer. Optical images can be acquired in real time with high spatial resolution to image-specific molecular targets, while still providing morphologic context. This article reviews recent advances in optical molecular imaging, highlighting the advances in technology required to improve early cancer detection, guide selection of targeted therapy and rapidly evaluate therapeutic efficacy.

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