Nano versus Molecular: Optical Imaging Approaches to Detect and Monitor Tumor Hypoxia – a review by NMIN researcher & trainees

In a review article published today in Advanced Healthcare Materials, NMIN trainees Dr. Miffy Hok Yan Cheng and Yulin Mo, together with NMIN researcher Dr. Gang Zheng, survey the latest nano and molecular developments in optical imaging approaches for detecting and monitoring hypoxia in solid tumours.

“Hypoxia is a hallmark of aggressive cancers. It plays a key role in tumor angiogenesis and resistance development, but conventional detection methods suffer from various limitations,” comments Dr. Cheng. “Optical sensors, on the other hand, allow us to image hypoxia noninvasively and enable real-time detection. They can be invaluable for planning personalized cancer treatment.”

In the article, the authors review the physical, chemical, and biological analytes for cancer hypoxia detection and discuss the latest developments in various in vivo optical imaging approaches: fluorescence, phosphorescence, and photoacoustic.

“Within these approaches, both molecular and nanoprobes offer advantages,” notes Yulin Mo. “Optical molecular probes can enable analyte triggered response, for example, and their properties can be fine-tuned.”

“Optical nanoprobes, for their part, can acquire unique properties through nanoconfinement; they can enable simultaneous multimodal imaging and drug delivery; and they also provide certain biological advantages, such as improving bioavailability.”

As well as assessing the potential of these approaches in hypoxia detection, the authors consider the challenges with molecular and nanotechnology design strategies.

“The tumor micro-environment is complex, and there are just so many analytes that contribute to the overall state of hypoxia,” observes Dr. Zheng.

“There is no single factor that would be best used to assess all the phenomena involved. Nonetheless, biomedical sensors play a fundamental role in our understanding of tumor hypoxia, and we are convinced that advancing their photophysical and pharmacokinetic properties will be very worthwhile.”

Read the review: Nano versus Molecular: Optical Imaging Approaches to Detect and Monitor Tumor Hypoxia