Treatment strategies for the highly invasive brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, require that cells which have invaded into the surrounding brain be specifically targeted. The inherent tumor-tropism of neural stem cells (NSCs) to primary and invasive tumor foci can be exploited to deliver therapeutics to invasive brain tumor cells in humans. Use of the strategy of converting prodrug to drug via therapeutic transgenes delivered by immortalized therapeutic NSC lines have shown efficacy in animal models. Thus therapeutic NSCs are being proposed for use in human brain tumor clinical trials. In the context of NSC-based therapies, MRI can be used both to non-invasively follow dynamic spatio-temporal patterns of the NSC tumor targeting allowing for the optimization of treatment strategies and to assess efficacy of the therapy. Iron-labeling of cells allows their presence to be visualized and tracked by MRI. Thus we aimed to iron-label therapeutic NSCs without affecting their cellular physiology using a method likely to gain United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
We report on a new straightforward magnetic cell-labeling approach that combines three US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs--ferumoxytol, heparin and protamine--in serum-free medium to form self-assembling nanocomplexes that effectively label cells for in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We observed that the ferumoxytol-heparin-protamine (HPF) nanocomplexes were stable in serum-free cell culture medium. HPF nanocomplexes show a threefold increase in T2 relaxivity compared to ferumoxytol. Electron microscopy showed internalized HPF in endosomes, which we confirmed by Prussian blue staining of labeled cells. There was no long-term effect or toxicity on cellular physiology or function of HPF-labeled hematopoietic stem cells, bone marrow stromal cells, neural stem cells or T cells when compared to controls. In vivo MRI detected 1,000 HPF-labeled cells implanted in rat brains. This HPF labeling method should facilitate the monitoring by MRI of infused or implanted cells in clinical trials.
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