Molecular photoacoustic imaging of breast cancer using an actively targeted conjugated polymer

Ghayathri Balasundaram, Chris Jun Hui Ho, Kai Li, Wouter Driessen, U. S. Dinish, Chi Lok Wong, Vasilis Ntziachristos, Bin Liu, Malini Olivo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

47 Scopus citations


Conjugated polymers (CPs) are upcoming optical contrast agents in view of their unique optical properties and versatile synthetic chemistry. Biofunctionalization of these polymer-based nanoparticles enables molecular imaging of biological processes. In this work, we propose the concept of using a biofunctionalized CP for noninvasive photoacoustic (PA) molecular imaging of breast cancer. In particular, after verifying the PA activity of a CP nano­particle (CP dots) in phantoms and the targeting efficacy of a folate-functionalized version of the same (folate-CP dots) in vitro, we systemically administered the probe into a folate receptor-positive (FR+ve) MCF-7 breast cancer xenograft model to demonstrate the possible application of folate-CP dots for imaging FR+ve breast cancers in comparison to CP dots with no folate moieties. We observed a strong PA signal at the tumor site of folate-CP dots-administered mice as early as 1 hour after administration as a result of the active targeting of the folate-CP dots to the FR+ve tumor cells but a weak PA signal at the tumor site of CP-dots-administered mice as a result of the passive accumulation of the probe by enhanced permeability and retention effect. We also observed that folate-CP dots produced ∼4-fold enhancement in the PA signal in the tumor, when compared to CP dots. These observations demonstrate the great potential of this active-targeting CP to be used as a contrast agent for molecular PA diagnostic imaging in various biomedical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-397
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Nanomedicine
StatePublished - 08 01 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Balasundaram et al.


  • Breast cancer
  • Conjugated polymers
  • Molecular imaging
  • Photoacoustic tomography


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