The Kircher Lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering is developing novel nanoprobes for molecular imaging, image-guided therapy, and theranostics. Our ultimate goal is to develop a universal technology that allows determination of the total tumor burden in a patient before, during, and after treatment. This will allow detection of both the primary tumor, as well as metastases, both pre- and intraoperatively.
Raman image-guided brain tumor resection
Cartoon based on actual data using SERS nanoparticles in a mouse glioblastoma model. SERS nanoparticles were injected intravenously, and Raman imaging was performed 24 hours later. Green = brain tumor; gray = healthy brain; red = Raman signal.
One of the most important goals in oncology is the earliest possible detection of a cancer, at a stage where the tumor can still be completely removed or destroyed – either by surgical excision or minimally invasive interventional radiology techniques.
Such a goal can only be achieved if the tumor burden is assessed with the highest possible sensitivity and accuracy, and then removed completely. This requires imaging methods that allow sensitive whole-body tumor detection and ultra-high-precision intraoperative tumor delineation, including detection of tiny micro-metastases or fingerlike tumor projections that currently cannot be visualized with existing methods.
In Vivo Raman Imaging of Nanoprobes
One new method that promises to allow such ultra-high-sensitivity detection is surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) imaging. SERS imaging is fundamentally different from other known imaging methods. Raman imaging detects unique photons that have interacted with particular atomic bonds in molecules. Because the interaction of a Raman photon with a particular atomic bond of a molecule causes a specific change in the wavelength of the Raman photon, the molecule can be detected with unequivocal precision: Raman allows “molecular fingerprinting.
This principle can be used to detect targeted molecular nanoprobes that carry a unique spectral fingerprint, which has several major advantages over existing imaging methods:
- The Raman fingerprint unequivocally identifies the presence of the contrast agent (no issues with autofluorescence).
- Using sophisticated nanotechnology, it is possible to enhance the signal intensity of the Raman nanoprobe many orders of magnitude, allowing markedly higher sensitivity than other imaging methods.
- Raman active nanoprobes do not exhibit photobleaching (in contrast to fluorescent probes, for example).
- Raman fingerprints are unique. This allows creation of large libraries of nanoparticles with different targets or properties that can all be imaged simultaneously (“Raman multiplexing”).
- Raman nanoprobes can be based on nontoxic, inert materials (gold).
Imaging based on SERS nanoprobes therefore provides the highest possible sensitivity and signal specificity as well as multiplexing capabilities, a combination of attributes that can pave the way for cancer detection and destruction with unparalleled precision in intraoperative and endoscopic applications.
Multimodal Nanoprobes for Cancer Imaging
The goal to allow both pre- and intraoperative tumor detection requires that the Raman nanoprobes also be “seen” with a whole-body, three-dimensional imaging modality, such as MRI, PET, or CT. Another more recently developed three-dimensional modality is photoacoustic imaging, which can allow for deeper tissue localization in the operating room. We are able to add these additional modalities to the nanoprobes by incorporating respective contrast agent molecules into the nanoparticle formulations. This results in multimodal nanoparticles that can be localized by three or more modalities, each of which has complementary strengths (Nature Medicine, in press). We are collaborating on some of these projects with Sam Gambhir of Stanford University.
Multimodal Theranostic Nanoprobes
Ideally, cancer cells could be selectively destroyed during imaging. This goal can be achieved by adding therapeutic capabilities to diagnostic nanoprobes that selectively accumulate in cancer cells (theranostic nanoprobes). For example, nanoparticles can be tuned to generate heat while being imaged, and as a result the locally generated heat could potentially destroy small foci of cancer cells that cannot be removed by resection.
About Moritz Kircher
Moritz Kircher received his medical and doctorate degree from the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. He did a radiology residency and fellowship training in MRI at Harvard and Stanford Universities and postdoctoral training at the Center for Molecular Imaging Research of Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital and in the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford. In 2010, he joined the faculty of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as a physician-scientist, focusing on novel molecular imaging approaches for early cancer detection. He is a member of the Department of Radiology, the Nanotechnology Center, and the Brain Tumor Center.
Awards and Honors
- Winner, Young Investigator Award, 2012 World Molecular Imaging Congress (2012)
- Named “Dana Neuroscience Scholar” by The Dana Foundation (2011)
- RSNA Research Scholar Award (2011)
- RSNA Roentgen Resident Research Award (2008)
- Lawrie B. Morrison Research Award, Harvard Medical School (2007)
- Election as Chief Resident (2007)
- Eduard Ceraldi Award, Cleveland Clinic Health System (2005)
- RSNA Research Fellow Trainee Prize (best paper in Neuroimaging) (2003)
- American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (2003
- RSNA Research Fellow Trainee Prize (best paper in Physics) (2002)
- Oral thesis defense with “summa cum laude” (2002)
- Recipient, German Research Foundation (DFG) Fellowship (2001)
- MD degree with highest distinction (2000)