Objective: Photoacoustic (PA) tomography (PAT) has attracted extensive interest because of its optical absorption contrast and ultrasonic detection. This study aims to develop a biocompatible and biodegradable PA contrast agent particularly promising for clinical applications in human body.
Methods: In this study, we presented a PA contrast agent: 1, 2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine- N-[methoxy (polyethylene glycol)] (DSPE-PEG)-coated superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) nanoparticles (NPs) loaded with indocyanine green (ICG). We used ICG and SPIO NPs because both drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Given the strong absorption of near-infrared laser pulses, SPIO@DSPE-PEG/ICG NPs with a uniform diameter of ~28 nm could significantly enhance PA signals.
Results: We demonstrated the contrast enhancement of these NPs in phantom and animal experiments, in which the in vivo circulation time of SPIO@DSPE-PEG/ICG NPs was considerably longer than that of free ICG. These novel NPs also displayed a high efficiency of tumor targeting. Conclusions: SPIO@DSPE-PEG/ICG NPs are promising PAT contrast agents for clinical applications.

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