Optical imaging probes in oncology

Cristina Martelli, Alessia Lo Dico, Cecilia Diceglie, Giovanni Lucignani and Luisa Ottobrini _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:48753-48787. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9066

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Cristina Martelli1,2, Alessia Lo Dico1,3, Cecilia Diceglie1,2,4, Giovanni Lucignani2,5 and Luisa Ottobrini1,2,6

1 Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, Milan, Italy

2 Centre of Molecular and Cellular Imaging-IMAGO, Milan, Italy

3 Umberto Veronesi Foundation, Milan, Italy

4 Tecnomed Foundation, University of Milan-Bicocca, Monza, Italy

5 Department of Health Sciences, University of Milan, Milan, Italy

6 Institute for Molecular Bioimaging and Physiology (IBFM), National Research Council (CNR), Milan, Italy

Correspondence to:

Luisa Ottobrini, email:

Keywords: cancer, fluorescent probes, biomarkers, molecular processes, tumor cell features

Received: October 02, 2015 Accepted: April 10, 2016 Published: April 27, 2016


Cancer is a complex disease, characterized by alteration of different physiological molecular processes and cellular features. Keeping this in mind, the possibility of early identification and detection of specific tumor biomarkers by non-invasive approaches could improve early diagnosis and patient management.

Different molecular imaging procedures provide powerful tools for detection and non-invasive characterization of oncological lesions. Clinical studies are mainly based on the use of computed tomography, nuclear-based imaging techniques and magnetic resonance imaging. Preclinical imaging in small animal models entails the use of dedicated instruments, and beyond the already cited imaging techniques, it includes also optical imaging studies. Optical imaging strategies are based on the use of luminescent or fluorescent reporter genes or injectable fluorescent or luminescent probes that provide the possibility to study tumor features even by means of fluorescence and luminescence imaging. Currently, most of these probes are used only in animal models, but the possibility of applying some of them also in the clinics is under evaluation.

The importance of tumor imaging, the ease of use of optical imaging instruments, the commercial availability of a wide range of probes as well as the continuous description of newly developed probes, demonstrate the significance of these applications. The aim of this review is providing a complete description of the possible optical imaging procedures available for the non-invasive assessment of tumor features in oncological murine models. In particular, the characteristics of both commercially available and newly developed probes will be outlined and discussed.

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