An effective cancer control strategy requires improved early detection methods, patient-specific drug selection, and the ability to assess response to targeted therapeutics. Recently, plasmon resonance coupling between closely spaced metal nanoparticles has been used to develop ultrasensitive bioanalytical assays in vitro. We demonstrate the first in vivo application of plasmon coupling for molecular imaging of carcinogenesis. We describe molecular-specific gold bioconjugates to image epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR); these conjugates can be delivered topically and imaged noninvasively in real time. We show that labeling with gold bioconjugates gives information on the overexpression and nanoscale spatial relationship of EGF receptors in cell membranes, both of which are altered in neoplasia. EGFR-mediated aggregation of gold nanoparticles in neoplastic cells results in more than a 100-nm color shift and a contrast ratio of more than tenfold in images of normal and precancerous epithelium in vivo, dramatically increasing contrast beyond values reported previously for antibody-targeted fluorescent dyes.
Specific genotypes of human papillomavirus (HPV) are well correlated with cervical oncogenesis. The major transforming and immortalizing protein in high risk HPVs, namely HPV16, is E7 protein. E7 protein functions by deregulating the cell cycle and promoting S-phase reentry in differentiated keratinocytes. Currently, clinical diagnosis
of cervical cancer is based on phenotypic changes observed in a screening Papanicolaou smear. Although screening has been effective in reducing the occurrence of cervical cancer, the low specificity of the Pap smear results in resources wasted on the evaluation of low-grade lesions not likely to progress to cervical cancer. Molecular characterization of active HPV infections using molecular specific contrast agents are combined with in-vivo optical imaging is proposed
to be a cost-effective, non-invasive technique for the detection of cervical pre-cancers. Contrast is achieved by exploiting the peak absorbance and scattering shift in aggregated gold nanoparticles over isolated ones and molecular specificity is achieved via recognition moieties with high affinities for E7. Conjugates of gold nanoparticles and HPV16 anti-E7 antibodies are delivered into the nucleus of living cells and imaged with reflectance confocal
microscopy. These contrast agents have been used to successfully enhance contrast in HPV16+ cervical cancer cells over HPV- cells by a factor of 2.5. Further characterization and development of these contrast agents will provide a robust, low cost screening tool for the detection of cervical pre-cancers.