Real-time IR700 Fluorescence Imaging During Near-infrared Photoimmunotherapy Using a Clinically-approved Camera for Indocyanine Green
1Shimadzu Corporation, Kyoto, Japan
2Molecular Imaging Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National CancerInstitute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, U.S.A.
Near-infrared (NIR) photoimmunotherapy (NIR-PIT) is a new cancer therapy which utilizes a monoclonal antibody-photoabsorber conjugate (APC) and NIR light to kill cancer cells (1-3). Once the APC is injected intravenously, it binds predominantly to overexpressed target antigens on the surface of cancer cells (4). NIR light exposure causes a photo-induced ligand release reaction in IRDye700DX (IR700), resulting in photochemical changes in the molecule that lead to cell membrane disruption and selective cell killing on APC-bound cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding normal tissues (5,6). A fast-tracked global phase III clinical trial of NIR-PIT using cetuximab-IR700 (ASP-1929) targeting epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in patients with inoperable and recurrent head and neck cancer began in 2019 (7) and the first clinical use of NIR-PIT was approved in Japan in 2020.
It is important that enough light energy is delivered to the tumor to activate the APC. However, light in excess of this amount has no benefit and could potentially cause tissue injury by non-specific production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). In the ongoing clinical trials, 50-100 J/cm2 of NIR light for surface exposure or 100 J/cm for internal exposure using a cylindrical light diffuser is used in all patients. Inadequate light exposure could reduce the therapeutic efficacy (8) while excess light could cause harm (9). It would thus be highly desirable to have a method of measuring the effectiveness of NIR-PIT while it is being performed.
The current laser system emits light at 689 ± 5 nm which is well matched to IR700 absorbance; however, the high intensity of the laser light at 689 nm makes it impossible to measure IR700 fluorescence at 700 nm. While IR700 has peak fluorescence at 700 nm, it has a much lower but measurable “tail” of fluorescence from 700 - 850 nm. Thus, if a sufficiently sensitive camera is used it is possible to measure IR700 fluorescence indirectly at wavelengths much longer than the peak fluorescence wavelength of 700 nm. Highly sensitive cameras have been developed to measure indocyanine green (ICG) fluorescence at > 820 nm as this agent is increasingly used to assist in surgical procedures. Therefore, measurement of IR700 fluorescence loss in a tumor at > 820 nm could be a useful indicator that a sufficient amount of light has been delivered and further light treatment is unnecessary.
In this study, we performed real-time fluorescence imaging (FI) at 820 nm during NIR-PIT in a A431-GFP/luc tumor-bearing mouse model as the first real-time theranostic imaging for cancer phototherapy using the LIGHTVISION camera, which was designed to measure the fluorescence of ICG. Following NIR-PIT, we performed bioluminescence imaging (BLI) to evaluate the correlation between fluorescence loss and cell death.
Materials and Methods
The major cytotoxic mechanism of NIR-PIT is based on a photo-induced ligand release reaction of IR700 after NIR light exposure that leads to biophysical changes in the APC, resulting in physical damage to the cell membrane (6). At the same time, this photo-induced ligand release results in irreversible loss of IR700 fluorescence, indicating that NIR-PIT has been effective. Excess light exposure beyond the point where fluorescence is lost is unlikely to contribute further to the effectiveness of NIR-PIT and may even cause harm by non-specific production of ROS. Therefore, fluorescence images of IR700 during NIR-PIT could be used to monitor the process and provide useful feedback to the operator regarding the point when NIR-PIT laser light exposure could be stopped. However, measuring IR700 fluorescence directly while high intensity laser light is activating the APC at a peak of 690 nm ± 5 nm is not possible due to the overlap of the excitation and peak emission spectra. However, while IR700 exhibits peak fluorescence emission at 700 nm, its complete spectrum includes wavelengths > 700 nm which extends beyond 800 nm, albeit at vastly reduced intensities.
In this study, real-time monitoring of IR700 fluorescence during NIR-PIT was accomplished with a highly sensitive NIR FI camera system (LIGHTVISION) which is normally used clinically for indocyanine green ICG imaging (11), a dye that fluoresces at > 820 nm. We showed that NIR FI at > 820 nm successfully detected fluorescence loss of IR700 in a light dose dependent manner (Figure 2B, C). IR700 showed a 2-phase fluorescence loss pattern of a rapid early decrease at low NIR light exposures, followed by a slower decrease resulting in a flattening of the curve beginning at approximately 40 J/cm2 (corresponding with a light exposure time of approximately 267 s) (Figure 2C). As the LIGHTVISION camera is tuned to detect fluorescence at much longer wavelengths than the NIR laser, it avoids signal cross contamination during NIR-PIT. Similarly, the T/N ratio also showed the same pattern of fluorescence loss, resulting in a fluorescence plateau ≥40 J/cm2 (Figure 2D). Theoretically, the fluorescence intensity only decreases during NIR light exposure due to irreversible photobleaching of IR700. However, we observed that the T/N ratio increased at exposures greater than 30 J/cm2 (Figure 2D and 2E). This is likely explained by the super-enhanced permeability and retention (SUPR) effect that has been previously reported with NIR-PIT (12). The SUPR effect is caused by rapid perivascular cancer cell killing that enhances delivery of macromolecules, including the APC itself, into the tumor (13). In the early phases of NIR-PIT, the SUPR effect is minimal and thus the T/N is monotonically decreased. However, as cell killing increases the SUPR effect allows more circulating intact APC to enter the tumor (Figure 2E) leading to slight increases in fluorescence. The two-phase T/N curve shown in Figure 2D and 2E is thus explained by the onset of the SUPR effect within the tumor. Additionally, BLI signal loss was positively correlated with IR700 fluorescence loss (Figure 3B). BLI is a reliable indicator of cell viability and loss of BLI signal indicates tumor killing. Real-time fluorescence monitoring at > 820 nm could indicate when the excitation of the APC is complete and no further NIR light is needed. This could provide useful feedback to an operator in a clinical situation.
There are several limitations to this study. First, the observable depth of FI is limited and the camera only images the most superficial parts of this subcutaneous tumor model. Fluorescence of deeper tissue was not obtained in this study. Although NIR light penetrates deeper than visible range light, even NIR light is highly attenuated in tissue. Therefore, to extend this method to interstitial light delivery to treat deeper lesions may require fluorescence detectors to be built into the interstitial light fibers. Additionally, fluorescence loss plateaued at 15-20% of maximum. At this point it becomes difficult to visualize the tumor compared to background fluorescence. Therefore, it is important not to move the camera during this procedure. Since FI using LIGHTVISION operates at >820 nm, there is a maximal depth penetration of light and minimal autofluorescence compared to shorter wavelengths; nonetheless there is a signal floor below which the tumor can no longer be seen.
Using a commercially available NIR camera, the effectiveness of NIR-PIT could be monitored non-invasively and in real time, taking advantage of the high intensity of the laser light excitation and the long tail of IR700 fluorescence at this high intensity light. Loss of IR700 fluorescence demonstrates a 2-phase pattern with rapid initial loss of fluorescence and then a delayed slower response, leading to a gradual flattening of the curve beyond 40 J/cm2 of delivered light. Fluorescence loss correlated with tumor cell death and thus, FI imaging could be a non-invasive method for monitoring the dose of laser light needed to have effective cell killing with NIR-PIT.
Conflicts of Interest
The Authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
All Authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript. S.O. and D.F. mainly designed and conducted experiments, performed analysis, verified data and wrote the manuscript; F.I., R.O., Y.M., H.W., T.K., and A.F., performed experiments and analysis; P.L.C. wrote the manuscript and supervised the project; H.K. planned and initiated the project, designed and conducted experiments, verified data, wrote the manuscript, and supervised the entire project.
This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Center for Cancer Research (ZIA BC011513). F.I. was also supported by a grant from National Center for Global Health and Medicine Research Institute, Tokyo, Japan.