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Quantum dot loaded immunomicelles for tumor imaging

Aristarchos Papagiannaros, Jaydev Upponi, William Hartner, Dmitriy Mongayt, Tatyana Levchenko and Vladimir Torchilin*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Nanomedicine, 312 Mugar Life Sciences Building, Northeastern University, Boston MA 02115, USA

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BMC Medical Imaging 2010, 10:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2342-10-22

Published: 18 October 2010



Optical imaging is a promising method for the detection of tumors in animals, with speed and minimal invasiveness. We have previously developed a lipid coated quantum dot system that doubles the fluorescence of PEG-grafted quantum dots at half the dose. Here, we describe a tumor-targeted near infrared imaging agent composed of cancer-specific monoclonal anti-nucleosome antibody 2C5, coupled to quantum dot (QD)-containing polymeric micelles, prepared from a polyethylene glycol/phosphatidylethanolamine (PEG-PE) conjugate. Its production is simple and involves no special equipment. Its imaging potential is great since the fluorescence intensity in the tumor is twofold that of non-targeted QD-loaded PEG-PE micelles at one hour after injection.


Para-nitrophenol-containing (5%) PEG-PE quantum dot micelles were produced by the thin layer method. Following hydration, 2C5 antibody was attached to the PEG-PE micelles and the QD-micelles were purified using dialysis. 4T1 breast tumors were inoculated subcutaneously in the flank of the animals. A lung pseudometastatic B16F10 melanoma model was developed using tail vein injection. The contrast agents were injected via the tail vein and mice were depilated, anesthetized and imaged on a Kodak Image Station. Images were taken at one, two, and four hours and analyzed using a methodology that produces normalized signal-to-noise data. This allowed for the comparison between different subjects and time points. For the pseudometastatic model, lungs were removed and imaged ex vivo at one and twenty four hours.


The contrast agent signal intensity at the tumor was double that of the passively targeted QD-micelles with equally fast and sharply contrasted images. With the side views of the animals only tumor is visible, while in the dorsal view internal organs including liver and kidney are visible. Ex vivo results demonstrated that the agent detects melanoma nodes in a lung pseudometastatic model after a 24 hours wash-out period, while at one hour, only a uniform signal is detected.


The targeted agent produces ultrabright tumor images and double the fluorescence intensity, as rapidly and at the same low dose as the passively targeted agents. It represents a development that may potentially serve to enhance early detection for metastases.