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Researchers Use MRIs To Track Emerging Cell Therapies

Update Date: Sep 20, 2014 04:14 PM EDT

Researchers have performed the first human test that uses a perfluorocarbon (PFC) tracer in combination with non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track therapeutic immune cells injected into patients with colorectal cancer, according to a new study. 

"Initially, we see this technique used for clinical trials that involve tests of new cell therapies," said first author Eric T. Ahrens, PhD, professor in the Department of Radiology at UC San Diego, in the press release. "Clinical development of cell therapies can be accelerated by providing feedback regarding cell motility, optimal delivery routes, individual therapeutic doses and engraftment success."

At present, there are no accepted ways to image cells in the human body that covers a broad range of cell types and diseases. Techniques devised in prior have used metal ion-based vascular MRI contrast agents and radioisotopes. 

"This is the first human PFC cell tracking agent, which is a new way to do MRI cell tracking," said Ahrens. "It's the first example of a clinical MRI agent designed specifically for cell tracking."

Researchers used a PFC tracer agent and an MRI technique that directly detected fluorine atoms in the labeled cells. 

"The imaging agent technology has been to shown to be able to tag any cell type that is of interest," Ahrens said. "It is a platform imaging technology for a wide range of diseases and applications," which might also speed development of relevant therapies.

"Non-invasive cell tracking may help lower regulatory barriers," Ahrens explained. "For example, new stem cell therapies can be slow to obtain regulatory approvals in part because it is difficult, if not impossible, with current approaches to verify survival and location of transplanted cells. And cell therapy trials generally have a high cost per patient. Tools that allow the investigator to gain a 'richer' data set from individual patients mean it may be possible to reduce patient numbers enrolled in a trial, thus reducing total trial cost."

The study has been published in the journal Magnetic Resonance. 

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