Many labs have been developing cellular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), using both superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) and fluorine-19 (19F)-based cell labels, to track immune and stem cells used for cellular therapies. Although SPION-based MRI cell tracking has very high sensitivity for cell detection, SPIONs are indirectly detected owing to relaxation effects on protons, producing negative magnetic resonance contrast with low signal specificity. Therefore, it is not possible to reliably quantify the local tissue concentration of SPION particles, and cell number cannot be determined. 19F-based cell tracking has high specificity for perfluorocarbon-labeled cells, and 19F signal is directly related to cell number. However, 19F MRI has low sensitivity. Magnetic particle imaging (MPI) is a new imaging modality that directly detects SPIONs. SPION-based cell tracking using MPI displays great potential for overcoming the challenges of MRI-based cell tracking, allowing for both high cellular sensitivity and specificity, and quantification of SPION-labeled cell number. Here we describe nanoparticle and MPI system factors that influence MPI sensitivity and resolution, quantification methods, and give our perspective on testing and applying MPI for cell tracking.
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