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Ann Biomed Eng. 2013 Nov;41(11):2237-47. doi: 10.1007/s10439-013-0901-8. Epub 2013 Aug 27.

Can molecular imaging enable personalized diagnostics? An example using magnetomotive photoacoustic imaging.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, 3720, 15th Ave NE, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA,


The advantages of photoacoustic (PA) imaging, including low cost, non-ionizing operation, and sub-mm spatial resolution at centimeters depth, make it a promising modality to probe nanoparticle-targeted abnormalities in real time at cellular and molecular levels. However, detecting rare cell types in a heterogeneous background with strong optical scattering and absorption remains a big challenge. For example, differentiating circulating tumor cells in vivo (typically fewer than 10 cells/mL for an active tumor) among billions of erythrocytes in the blood is nearly impossible. In this paper, a newly developed technique, magnetomotive photoacoustic (mmPA) imaging, which can greatly increase the sensitivity and specificity of sensing targeted cells or molecular interactions, is reviewed. Its primary advantage is suppression of background signals through magnetic enrichment/manipulation with simultaneous PA detection of magnetic contrast agent targeted objects. Results from phantom and in vitro studies demonstrate the capability of mmPA imaging to differentiate regions targeted with magnetic nanoparticles from the background, and to trap and sensitively detect targeted cells at a concentration of a single cell per milliliter in a flow system mimicking a human peripheral artery. This technique provides an example of the ways in which molecular imaging can potentially enable robust molecular diagnosis and treatment, and accelerate the translation of molecular medicine into the clinic.

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