EXCI-CEST: Exploiting pharmaceutical excipients as MRI-CEST contrast agents for tumor imaging

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Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST) approach is a novel tool within magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that allows visualization of molecules possessing exchangeable protons with water. Many molecules, employed as excipients for the formulation of finished drug products, are endowed with hydroxyl, amine or amide protons, thus can be exploitable as MRI-CEST contrast agents. Their high safety profiles allow them to be injected at very high doses. Here we investigated the MRI-CEST properties of several excipients (ascorbic acid, sucrose, N-acetyl-D-glucosamine, meglumine and 2-pyrrolidone) and tested them as tumor-detecting agents in two different murine tumor models (breast and melanoma cancers). All the investigated molecules showed remarkable CEST contrast upon i.v. administration in the range 1–3 ppm according to the type of mobile proton groups. A marked increase of CEST contrast was observed in tumor regions up to 30 min post injection. The combination of marked tumor contrast enhancement and lack of toxicity make these molecules potential candidates for the diagnosis of tumors within the MRI-CEST approach.

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