All Publications

  • Rational design of a chalcogenopyrylium-based surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering nanoprobe with attomolar sensitivity NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Harmsen, S., Bedics, M. A., Wall, M. A., Huang, R., Detty, M. R., Kircher, M. F. 2015; 6


    High sensitivity and specificity are two desirable features in biomedical imaging. Raman imaging has surfaced as a promising optical modality that offers both. Here we report the design and synthesis of a group of near-infrared absorbing 2-thienyl-substituted chalcogenopyrylium dyes tailored to have high affinity for gold. When adsorbed onto gold nanoparticles, these dyes produce biocompatible SERRS nanoprobes with attomolar limits of detection amenable to ultrasensitive in vivo multiplexed tumour and disease marker detection.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/ncomms7570

    View details for Web of Science ID 000352720700005

    View details for PubMedID 25800697

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4372816

  • Surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering nanostars for high-precision cancer imaging SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE Harmsen, S., Huang, R., Wall, M. A., Karabeber, H., Samii, J. M., Spaliviero, M., White, J. R., Monette, S., O'Connor, R., Pitter, K. L., Sastra, S. A., Saborowski, M., Holland, E. C., Singer, S., Olive, K. P., Lowe, S. W., Blasberg, R. G., Kircher, M. F. 2015; 7 (271)


    The inability to visualize the true extent of cancers represents a significant challenge in many areas of oncology. The margins of most cancer types are not well demarcated because the cancer diffusely infiltrates the surrounding tissues. Furthermore, cancers may be multifocal and characterized by the presence of microscopic satellite lesions. Such microscopic foci represent a major reason for persistence of cancer, local recurrences, and metastatic spread, and are usually impossible to visualize with currently available imaging technologies. An imaging method to reveal the true extent of tumors is desired clinically and surgically. We show the precise visualization of tumor margins, microscopic tumor invasion, and multifocal locoregional tumor spread using a new generation of surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) nanoparticles, which are termed SERRS nanostars. The SERRS nanostars feature a star-shaped gold core, a Raman reporter resonant in the near-infrared spectrum, and a primer-free silication method. In genetically engineered mouse models of pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and sarcoma, and in one human sarcoma xenograft model, SERRS nanostars enabled accurate detection of macroscopic malignant lesions, as well as microscopic disease, without the need for a targeting moiety. Moreover, the sensitivity (1.5 fM limit of detection) of SERRS nanostars allowed imaging of premalignant lesions of pancreatic and prostatic neoplasias. High sensitivity and broad applicability, in conjunction with their inert gold-silica composition, render SERRS nanostars a promising imaging agent for more precise cancer imaging and resection.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/scitranslmed.3010633

    View details for Web of Science ID 000348353900004

    View details for PubMedID 25609167

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4414254

  • Detection of Premalignant Gastrointestinal Lesions Using Surface-Enhanced Resonance Raman Scattering-Nanoparticle Endoscopy. ACS nano Harmsen, S., Rogalla, S., Huang, R., Spaliviero, M., Neuschmelting, V., Hayakawa, Y., Lee, Y., Tailor, Y., Toledo-Crow, R., Kang, J. W., Samii, J. M., Karabeber, H., Davis, R. M., White, J. R., van de Rijn, M., Gambhir, S. S., Contag, C. H., Wang, T. C., Kircher, M. F. 2019; 13 (2): 1354?64


    Cancers of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are among the most frequent and most lethal cancers worldwide. An important reason for this high mortality is that early disease is typically asymptomatic, and patients often present with advanced, incurable disease. Even in high-risk patients who routinely undergo endoscopic screening, lesions can be missed due to their small size or subtle appearance. Thus, current imaging approaches lack the sensitivity and specificity to accurately detect incipient GI tract cancers. Here we report our finding that a single dose of a high-sensitivity surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering nanoparticle (SERRS-NP) enables reliable detection of precancerous GI lesions in animal models that closely mimic disease development in humans. Some of these animal models have not been used previously to evaluate imaging probes for early cancer detection. The studies were performed using a commercial Raman imaging system, a newly developed mouse Raman endoscope, and finally a clinically applicable Raman endoscope for larger animal studies. We show that this SERRS-NP-based approach enables robust detection of small, premalignant lesions in animal models that faithfully recapitulate human esophageal, gastric, and colorectal tumorigenesis. This method holds promise for much earlier detection of GI cancers than currently possible and could lead therefore to marked reduction of morbidity and mortality of these tumor types.

    View details for PubMedID 30624916

  • Dual-Modality Surface-Enhanced Resonance Raman Scattering and Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography Nanoparticle Approach for Brain Tumor Delineation. Small (Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany) Neuschmelting, V., Harmsen, S., Beziere, N., Lockau, H., Hsu, H., Huang, R., Razansky, D., Ntziachristos, V., Kircher, M. F. 2018: e1800740


    Difficulty in visualizing glioma margins intraoperatively remains a major issue in the achievement of gross total tumor resection and, thus, better clinical outcome of glioblastoma (GBM) patients. Here, the potential of a new combined optical + optoacoustic imaging method for intraoperative brain tumor delineation is investigated. A strategy using a newly developed gold nanostar synthesis method, Raman reporter chemistry, and silication method to produce dual-modality contrast agents for combined surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) and multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) imaging is devised. Following intravenous injection of the SERRS-MSOT-nanostars in brain tumor bearing mice, sequential MSOT imaging is performed in vivo and followed by Raman imaging. MSOT is able to accurately depict GBMs three-dimensionally with high specificity. The MSOT signal is found to correlate well with the SERRS images. Because SERRS enables uniquely sensitive high-resolution surface detection, it could represent an ideal complementary imaging modality to MSOT, which enables real-time, deep tissue imaging in 3D. This dual-modality SERRS-MSOT-nanostar contrast agent reported here is shown to enable high precision depiction of the extent of infiltrating GBMs by Raman- and MSOT imaging in a clinically relevant murine GBM model and could pave new ways for improved image-guided resection of brain tumors.

    View details for PubMedID 29726109

  • MUC1 Aptamer Targeted SERS Nanoprobes. Advanced functional materials Pal, S., Harmsen, S., Oseledchyk, A., Hsu, H., Kircher, M. F. 2017; 27 (32)


    Recently, surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) nanoprobes (NPs) have shown promise in the field of cancer imaging due to their unparalleled signal specificity and high sensitivity. Here we report the development of a DNA aptamer targeted SERS NP. Recently, aptamers are being investigated as a viable alternative to more traditional antibody targeting due to their low immunogenicity and low cost of production. We developed a strategy to functionalize SERS NPs with DNA aptamers, which target Mucin1 (MUC1) in human breast cancer (BC). Thorough in vitro characterization studies demonstrated excellent serum stability and specific binding of the targeted NPs to MUC1. In order to test their in vivo targeting capability, we co-injected MUC1-targeted SERS NPs, and as controls non-targeted and blocked MUC1-targeted SERS NPs in BC xenograft mouse models. A two-tumor mouse model with differential expression of MUC1 (MDA-MB-468 and MDA-MB-453) was used to control for active versus passive targeting in the same animals. The results showed that the targeted SERS NPs home to the tumors via active targeting of MUC1, with low levels of passive targeting. We expect this strategy to be an advantageous alternative to antibody-based targeting and useful for targeted imaging of tumor extent, progression, and therapeutic response.

    View details for PubMedID 29147108

  • Surfactant-Free Shape Control of Gold Nanoparticles Enabled by Unified Theoretical Framework of Nanocrystal Synthesis. Advanced materials Wall, M. A., Harmsen, S., Pal, S., Zhang, L., Arianna, G., Lombardi, J. R., Drain, C. M., Kircher, M. F. 2017; 29 (21)


    Gold nanoparticles have unique properties that are highly dependent on their shape and size. Synthetic methods that enable precise control over nanoparticle morphology currently require shape-directing agents such as surfactants or polymers that force growth in a particular direction by adsorbing to specific crystal facets. These auxiliary reagents passivate the nanoparticles' surface, and thus decrease their performance in applications like catalysis and surface-enhanced Raman scattering. Here, a surfactant- and polymer-free approach to achieving high-performance gold nanoparticles is reported. A theoretical framework to elucidate the growth mechanism of nanoparticles in surfactant-free media is developed and it is applied to identify strategies for shape-controlled syntheses. Using the results of the analyses, a simple, green-chemistry synthesis of the four most commonly used morphologies: nanostars, nanospheres, nanorods, and nanoplates is designed. The nanoparticles synthesized by this method outperform analogous particles with surfactant and polymer coatings in both catalysis and surface-enhanced Raman scattering.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/adma.201605622

    View details for PubMedID 28374940

  • Optical Surgical Navigation for Precision in Tumor Resections. Molecular imaging and biology Harmsen, S., Teraphongphom, N., Tweedle, M. F., Basilion, J. P., Rosenthal, E. L. 2017


    Optical imaging methods have significant potential as effective intraoperative tools to visualize tissues, cells, and biochemical events aimed at objective assessment of the tumor margin and guiding the surgeon to adequately resect the tumor while sparing critical tissues. The wide variety of approaches to guide resection, the range of parameters that they detect, and the interdisciplinary nature involving biology, chemistry, engineering, and medicine suggested that there was a need for an organization that could review, discuss, refine, and help prioritize methods to optimize patient care and pharmaceutical and instrument development. To address these issues, the World Molecular Imaging Society created the Optical Surgical Navigation (OSN) interest group to bring together scientists, engineers, and surgeons to develop the field to benefit patients. Here, we provide an overview of approaches currently under clinical investigation for optical surgical navigation and offer our perspective on upcoming strategies.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s11307-017-1054-1

    View details for PubMedID 28271367

  • Chelator-Free Radiolabeling of SERRS Nanoparticles for Whole-Body PET and Intraoperative Raman Imaging. Theranostics Wall, M., Shaffer, T. M. 2017: 3068?77


    A single contrast agent that offers whole-body non-invasive imaging along with the superior sensitivity and spatial resolution of surface-enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) imaging would allow both pre-operative mapping and intraoperative imaging and thus be highly desirable. We hypothesized that labeling our recently reported ultrabright SERRS nanoparticles with a suitable radiotracer would enable pre-operative identification of regions of interest with whole body imaging that can be rapidly corroborated with a Raman imaging device or handheld Raman scanner in order to provide high precision guidance during surgical procedures. Here we present a straightforward new method that produces radiolabeled SERRS nanoparticles for combined positron emission tomography (PET)-SERRS tumor imaging without requiring the attachment of molecular chelators. We demonstrate the utility of these PET-SERRS nanoparticles in several proof-of-concept studies including lymph node (LN) tracking, intraoperative guidance for LN resection, and cancer imaging after intravenous injection. We anticipate that the radiolabeling method presented herein can be applied generally to nanoparticle substrates of various materials by first coating them with a silica shell and then applying the chelator-free protocol.

    View details for DOI 10.7150/thno.18019

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5566106

  • Detection of Lymph Node Metastases with SERRS Nanoparticles MOLECULAR IMAGING AND BIOLOGY Spaliviero, M., Harmsen, S., Huang, R., Wall, M. A., Andreou, C., Eastham, J. A., Touijer, K. A., Scardino, P. T., Kircher, M. F. 2016; 18 (5): 677-685


    The accurate detection of lymph node metastases in prostate cancer patients is important to direct treatment decisions. Our goal was to develop an intraoperative imaging approach to distinguish normal from metastasized lymph nodes. We aimed at developing and testing gold-silica surface-enhanced resonance Raman spectroscopy (SERRS) nanoparticles that demonstrate high uptake within normal lymphatic tissue and negligible uptake in areas of metastatic replacement.We evaluated the ability of SERRS nanoparticles to delineate lymph node metastases in an orthotopic prostate cancer mouse model using PC-3 cells transduced with mCherry fluorescent protein. Tumor-bearing mice (n?=?6) and non-tumor-bearing control animals (n?=?4) were injected intravenously with 30 fmol/g SERRS nanoparticles. After 16-18 h, the retroperitoneal lymph nodes were scanned in situ and ex vivo with a Raman imaging system and a handheld Raman scanner and data corroborated with fluorescence imaging for mCherry protein expression and histology.The SERRS nanoparticles demonstrated avid homing to normal lymph nodes, but not to metastasized lymph nodes. In cases where lymph nodes were partially infiltrated by tumor cells, the SERRS signal correctly identified, with sub-millimeter precision, healthy from metastasized components.This study serves as a first proof-of-principle that SERRS nanoparticles enable high precision and rapid intraoperative discrimination between normal and metastasized lymph nodes.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s11307-016-0932-2

    View details for Web of Science ID 000382870000005

    View details for PubMedID 26943129

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5010961

  • Stable Radiolabeling of Sulfur-Functionalized Silica Nanoparticles with Copper-64 NANO LETTERS Shaffer, T. M., Harmsen, S., Khwaja, E., Kircher, M. F., Drain, C. M., Grimm, J. 2016; 16 (9): 5601-5604


    Nanoparticles labeled with radiometals enable whole-body nuclear imaging and therapy. Though chelating agents are commonly used to radiolabel biomolecules, nanoparticles offer the advantage of attaching a radiometal directly to the nanoparticle itself without the need of such agents. We previously demonstrated that direct radiolabeling of silica nanoparticles with hard, oxophilic ions, such as the positron emitters zirconium-89 and gallium-68, is remarkably efficient. However, softer radiometals, such as the widely employed copper-64, do not stably bind to the silica matrix and quickly dissociate under physiological conditions. Here, we overcome this limitation through the use of silica nanoparticles functionalized with a soft electron-donating thiol group to allow stable attachment of copper-64. This approach significantly improves the stability of copper-64 labeled thiol-functionalized silica nanoparticles relative to native silica nanoparticles, thereby enabling in vivo PET imaging, and may be translated to other softer radiometals with affinity for sulfur. The presented approach expands the application of silica nanoparticles as a platform for facile radiolabeling with both hard and soft radiometal ions.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b02161

    View details for Web of Science ID 000383412100043

    View details for PubMedID 27464258

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5066563

  • Performance of a Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MSOT) System equipped with 2D vs. 3D Handheld Probes for Potential Clinical Translation. Photoacoustics Neuschmelting, V., Burton, N. C., Lockau, H., Urich, A., Harmsen, S., Ntziachristos, V., Kircher, M. F. 2016; 4 (1): 1-10


    A handheld approach to optoacoustic imaging is essential for the clinical translation. The first 2- and 3-dimensional handheld multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) probes featuring real-time unmixing have recently been developed. Imaging performance of both probes was determined in vitro and in a brain melanoma metastasis mouse model in vivo. T1-weighted MR images were acquired for anatomical reference. The limit of detection of melanoma cells in vitro was significantly lower using the 2D than the 3D probe. The signal decrease was more profound in relation to depth with the 3D versus the 2D probe. Both approaches were capable of imaging the melanoma tumors qualitatively at all time points. Quantitatively, the 2D approach enabled closer anatomical resemblance of the tumor compared to the 3D probe, particularly at depths beyond 3 mm. The 3D probe was shown to be superior for rapid 3D imaging and, thus, holds promise for more superficial target structures.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.pacs.2015.12.001

    View details for PubMedID 27069872

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4811917

  • High Precision Imaging of Microscopic Spread of Glioblastoma with a Targeted Ultrasensitive SERRS Molecular Imaging Probe THERANOSTICS Huang, R., Harmsen, S., Samii, J. M., Karabeber, H., Pitter, K. L., Holland, E. C., Kircher, M. F. 2016; 6 (8): 1075-1084


    The dismal prognosis of patients with malignant brain tumors such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is attributed mostly to their diffuse growth pattern and early microscopic tumor spread to distant regions of the brain. Because the microscopic tumor foci cannot be visualized with current imaging modalities, it remains impossible to direct treatments optimally. Here we explored the ability of integrin-targeted surface-enhanced resonance Raman spectroscopy (SERRS) nanoparticles to depict the true tumor extent in a GBM mouse model that closely mimics the pathology in humans. The recently developed SERRS-nanoparticles have a sensitivity of detection in the femtomolar range. An RGD-peptide-conjugated version for integrin-targeting (RGD-SERRS) was compared directly to its non-targeted RAD-SERRS control in the same mice via Raman multiplexing. Pre-blocking with RGD peptide before injection of RGD-SERRS nanoparticles was used to verify the specificity of integrin-targeting. In contrast to the current belief that the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect results in a baseline uptake of nanoparticles regardless of their surface chemistry, integrin-targeting was shown to be highly specific, with markedly lower accumulation after pre-blocking. While the non-targeted SERRS particles enabled delineation of the main tumor, the RGD-SERRS nanoparticles afforded a major improvement in visualization of the true extent and the diffuse margins of the main tumor. This included the detection of unexpected tumor areas distant to the main tumor, tracks of migrating cells of 2-3 cells in diameter, and even isolated distant tumor cell clusters of less than 5 cells. This Raman spectroscopy-based nanoparticle-imaging technology holds promise to allow high precision visualization of the true extent of malignant brain tumors.

    View details for DOI 10.7150/thno.13842

    View details for Web of Science ID 000378529400001

    View details for PubMedID 27279902

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4893636

  • Silica Nanoparticles as Substrates for Chelator-free Labeling of Oxophilic Radioisotopes NANO LETTERS Shaffer, T. M., Wall, M. A., Harmsen, S., Longo, V. A., Drain, C. M., Kircher, M. F., Grimm, J. 2015; 15 (2): 864-868


    Chelator-free nanoparticles for intrinsic radiolabeling are highly desirable for whole-body imaging and therapeutic applications. Several reports have successfully demonstrated the principle of intrinsic radiolabeling. However, the work done to date has suffered from much of the same specificity issues as conventional molecular chelators, insofar as there is no singular nanoparticle substrate that has proven effective in binding a wide library of radiosotopes. Here we present amorphous silica nanoparticles as general substrates for chelator-free radiolabeling and demonstrate their ability to bind six medically relevant isotopes of various oxidation states with high radiochemical yield. We provide strong evidence that the stability of the binding correlates with the hardness of the radioisotope, corroborating the proposed operating principle. Intrinsically labeled silica nanoparticles prepared by this approach demonstrate excellent in vivo stability and efficacy in lymph node imaging.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/nl503522y

    View details for Web of Science ID 000349578000010

    View details for PubMedID 25559467

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4412311

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