In vivo photoacoustic guidance of stem cell injection and delivery for regenerative spinal cord therapies

Kelsey P. Kubelick, Stanislav Y. Emelianov
Significance: Stem cell therapies are of interest for treating a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and injuries of the spinal cord. However, the lack of techniques for longitudinal monitoring of stem cell therapy progression is inhibiting clinical translation. Aim: The goal of this study is to demonstrate an intraoperative imaging approach to guide stem cell injection to the spinal cord in vivo. Results may ultimately support the development of an imaging tool that spans intra-or postoperative environments to guide therapy throughout treatment. Approach: Stem cells were labeled with Prussian blue nanocubes (PBNCs) to facilitate combined ultrasound and photoacoustic (US/PA) imaging to visualize stem cell injection and delivery to the spinal cord in vivo. US/PA results were confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histology. Results: Real-time intraoperative US/PA image-guided injection of PBNC-labeled stem cells and three-dimensional volumetric images of injection provided feedback necessary for successful delivery of therapeutics into the spinal cord. Postoperative MRI confirmed delivery of PBNC-labeled stem cells. Conclusions: The nanoparticle-augmented US/PA approach successfully detected injection and delivery of stem cells into the spinal cord, confirmed by MRI. Our work demonstrated in vivo feasibility, which is a critical step toward the development of a US/PA/MRI platform to monitor regenerative spinal cord therapies.

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