PURPOSE: Pancreatic cancer is still associated with a poor outcome and low patient quality of life, which are mainly attributed to the late detection and requirement of distal pancreatectomy with extended resection of pancreatic tumors. Therefore, novel strategies for early screening and precise tumor resection are urgently needed. In this study, we evaluated the feasibility of a low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR)-targeted small-molecule contrast agent (peptide-22-Cy7) for early screening with photoacoustic tomography and near-infrared (NIR) imaging as guided surgical navigation to achieve precise resection.

PROCEDURE: Normal pancreatic cells (HPDE6-C7) and cancer cells (PANC-1) were respectively used in the in vitro targeting evaluations. The ability of peptide-22-Cy7 for preoperative in vivo pancreatic tumor detection was investigated in a mouse orthotopic pancreatic cancer model (n = 10) using photoacoustic tomography; 18 tumor-bearing mice were further divided into three groups for different treatments. After intravenous injection of peptide-22-Cy7, surgical navigation was conducted through laparotomy. Histopathological analysis was used to further confirm the tumor area and the state of surgical margins.

RESULTS: Flow cytometry demonstrated that peptide-22 is highly specific to pancreatic cancer cells, with a fluorescence intensity of approximately 87.3 %. Orthotopic pancreatic tumors with a size of 4 mm could be accurately detected by photoacoustic tomography. Surgical navigation effectively achieved R0 resection and minimized the range of resection, which led to increased body weight of the mice following surgery.

CONCLUSION: Overall, our newly developed targeted contrast agent facilitated the accurate positioning and resection of pancreatic tumors. Photoacoustic tomography and optical imaging-guided surgical navigation may be a novel direction for improving the survival, quality of life, and disease management of pancreatic cancer patients.