Background
Cell-based regenerative medicine therapies are now frequently tested in clinical trials. In many conditions, cell therapies are administered systemically, but there is little understanding of their fate, and adverse events are often under-reported. Currently, it is only possible to assess safety and fate of cell therapies in preclinical studies, specifically by monitoring animals longitudinally using multi-modal imaging approaches. Here, using a suite of in vivo imaging modalities to explore the fate of a range of human and murine cells, we investigate how route of administration, cell type and host immune status affect the fate of administered cells.
Methods
We applied a unique imaging platform combining bioluminescence, optoacoustic and magnetic resonance imaging modalities to assess the safety of different human and murine cell types by following their biodistribution and persistence in mice following administration into the venous or arterial system.
Results
Longitudinal imaging analyses (i) suggested that the intra-arterial route may be more hazardous than intravenous administration for certain cell types, (ii) revealed that the potential of a mouse mesenchymal stem/stromal cell (MSC) line to form tumours depended on administration route and mouse strain and (iii) indicated that clinically tested human umbilical cord (hUC)-derived MSCs can transiently and unexpectedly proliferate when administered intravenously to mice.
Conclusions
In order to perform an adequate safety assessment of potential cell-based therapies, a thorough understanding of cell biodistribution and fate post administration is required. The non-invasive imaging platform used here can expose not only the general organ distribution of these therapies, but also a detailed view of their presence within different organs and, importantly, tumourigenic potential. Our observation that the hUC-MSCs but not the human bone marrow (hBM)-derived MSCs persisted for a period in some animals suggests that therapies with these cells should proceed with caution.

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