CIRM Grant – Public Abstract:
Non-invasive imaging techniques for an in vivo tracking of transplanted stem cells offer real-time insight into the underlying biological processes of new stem cell based therapies, with the aim to depict stem cell migration, homing and engraftment at organ, tissue and cellular levels. We showed in previous experiments, that stem cells can be labeled effectively with contrast agents and that the labeled cells can be tracked non-invasively and repetitively with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Optical imaging (OI). The purpose of this study was to apply and optimize these labeling techniques for a sensitive depiction of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) with OI and MRI.
Experimental Design: hESC were labeled with various contrast agents for MRI and OI, using a variety of labeling techniques, different contrast agent concentrations and different labeling intervals (1h – 24h). The cellular contrast agent uptake was proven by mass spectrometry (quantifies the iron oxides) and fluorescence microscopy (detects fluorescent dyes). The labeled hESC underwent imaging studies and extensive studies of their viability and ability to differentiate into specialized cell types.
Imaging studies: Decreasing numbers of 1 x 10^5 – 1 x 10^2 contrast agent-labeled hESC and non-labeled controls were evaluated with OI and MRI in order to determine the best contrast agent and labeling technique as well as the minimal detectable cell number with either imaging technique. In addition, samples of hESC were investigated with OI and MRI at 1 min, 2 min, 5 min, 1h, 2h, 6h, 12h, 24h and 48 h in order to investigate the stability of the label over time. Viability and differentiation assays of the hESC were performed before and after the labeling procedure in order to prove an unimpaired viability and function of the labeled cells.
Results: The FDA-approved contrast agents ferumoxides and indocyanine green (ICG) provided best results for MR and optical imaging (OI) applications. The cellular load with these labels was optimized towards the minimal concentration that allowed for detection with MR and OI, but did not alter cell viability or differentiation capacity. The ferumoxides and ICG-labeled hESCs as well as stem cell derived cardiomyocytes and chondrocytes provided significantly increased MR and OI signal effects when compared to unlabeled controls. ICG labeling provided short term labeling with rapid excretion of the label from the body while ferumoxides labeling allowed for cell tracking over several weeks.
Significance: The derived data allowed to establish and optimize hESC labeling with FDA approved contrast agents for a non-invasive depiction of the labeled cells with MR and OI imaging techniques. Our method is in principle readily applicable for monitoring of hESC -based therapies in patients and allows for direct correlations between the presence and distribution of hESC-derived cells in the target organ and functional improvements. The results of this study will be the basis for a variety of in vivo applications and associated further grant applications.