Molecular and cellular MR imaging is a rapidly growing field that aims to visualize targeted macromolecules or cells in living organisms. In order to provide a different signal intensity of the target, gadolinium-based MR contrast agents can be employed although they suffer from an inherent high threshold of detectability. Superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) particles can be detected at micromolar concentrations of iron, and offer sufficient sensitivity for T2(*)-weighted imaging. Over the past two decades, biocompatible particles have been linked to specific ligands for molecular imaging. However, due to their relatively large size and clearance by the reticuloendothelial system (RES), widespread biomedical molecular applications have yet to be implemented and few studies have been reproduced between different laboratories. SPIO-based cellular imaging, on the other hand, has now become an established technique to label and detect the cells of interest. Imaging of macrophage activity was the initial and still is the most significant application, in particular for tumor staging of the liver and lymph nodes, with several products either approved or in clinical trials. The ability to now also label non-phagocytic cells in culture using derivatized particles, followed by transplantation or transfusion in living organisms, has led to an active research interest to monitor the cellular biodistribution in vivo including cell migration and trafficking. While most of these studies to date have been mere of the 'proof-of-principle' type, further exploitation of this technique will be aimed at obtaining a deeper insight into the dynamics of in vivo cell biology, including lymphocyte trafficking, and at monitoring therapies that are based on the use of stem cells and progenitors.
Copyright (c) 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.