In vivo MR imaging of magnetically labeled human embryonic stem cells

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Human embryonic stem cells (hES) have emerged as a potentially new therapeutic approach for treatment of heart and other diseases applying the concept of regenerative medicine. A method for in vivo visualization and tracking of transplanted hES would increase our understanding of in vivo hES behavior in both experimental and clinical settings. The aim of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of magnetic labeling and visualization of hES with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


hES were established and expanded according to standard procedures. After expansion, the cells were cultured under feeder free conditions and magnetically labeled by addition of dextran-coated Ferrum-oxide particles (Endorem®) to the medium. Accumulation of small particles of iron-oxide (SPIO) in hES was assessed by Prussian blue staining and electron microscopy. For in vitro MRI, the labeled and unlabeled hES were examined in cell solution and after transplantation into explanted mouse heart (˜100000 cells) on a Bruker Avance DMX 500 vertical magnet at 11.75 T. A multi-slice, multi spin-echo T2-weighted images were obtained. For in vivo imaging, the experiments were performed on male Sprague–Dawley using Bruker Biospec 2.35 T magnet. The hES were directly injected (˜500000 cells) after surgical procedure (thoracotomy) into anterior left ventricular (LV) wall. Multi-slice T2-weighted gradient echo images were obtained using cardiac gating.


hES appeared to be unaffected by magnetic labeling and maintained their ability to proliferate and differentiate. No additive agent for membrane permeabilisation was needed for facilitation of intracellular SPIO accumulation. Prussian blue and electron microscopy have revealed numerous iron particles in the cytoplasm of hES. On T2-weighted images, the labeled cells have shown well-defined hyopintense areas at the site of injection in anterior LV wall both in vitro and in vivo.


It is feasible to magnetically label and visualize hES both in vitro and in vivo. MR visualization of magnetically labeled hES may be a valuable tool for in vivo tracking of hES.

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