How Non-invasive in vivo Cell Tracking Supports the Development and Translation of Cancer Immunotherapies

Front Physiol. 2020 Apr 3;11:154. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00154. eCollection 2020.


Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment regimen for cancer, and it is based on the modulation of the immune system to battle cancer. Immunotherapies can be classified as either molecular or cell-based immunotherapies, and both types have demonstrated promising results in a growing number of cancers. Indeed, several immunotherapies representing both classes are already approved for clinical use in oncology. While spectacular treatment successes have been reported, particularly for so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors and certain cell-based immunotherapies, they have also been accompanied by a variety of severe, sometimes life-threatening side effects. Furthermore, not all patients respond to immunotherapy. Hence, there is the need for more research to render these promising therapeutics more efficacious, more widely applicable, and safer to use. Whole-body in vivo imaging technologies that can interrogate cancers and/or immunotherapies are highly beneficial tools for immunotherapy development and translation to the clinic. In this review, we explain how in vivo imaging can aid the development of molecular and cell-based anti-cancer immunotherapies. We describe the principles of imaging host T-cells and adoptively transferred therapeutic T-cells as well as the value of traceable cancer cell models in immunotherapy development. Our emphasis is on in vivo cell tracking methodology, including important aspects and caveats specific to immunotherapies. We discuss a variety of associated experimental design aspects including parameters such as cell type, observation times/intervals, and detection sensitivity. The focus is on non-invasive 3D cell tracking on the whole-body level including aspects relevant for both preclinical experimentation and clinical translatability of the underlying methodologies.

Keywords: adoptive cell therapy; cell tracking; drug development; molecular imaging; multi-modal whole-body imaging; positron emission tomography; reporter gene.

Publication types

  • Review