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A non-invasive approach to detecting organ rejection by MRI: monitoring the accumulation of immune cells at the transplanted organ.
Organ transplantation is the generally preferred medical procedure of treatment for patients with end-stage organ failure. The immunological reaction of rejection is a major cause of functional failure in transplant patients. The current "gold standard" for detecting or confirming graft rejection following solid organ transplantation requires biopsy samples in order to detect immune cell (e.g., T-cells, macrophages, etc.) infiltration into the graft and other pathological changes. This procedure is not only invasive, having associated risks, but is also prone to sampling errors that can yield false negative results. To circumvent the need for biopsies, we are developing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to monitor the accumulation of immune cells at the transplanted organ as a means to detect graft rejection. By labeling immune cells with an MRI contrast agent, dextran-coated ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide (USPIO) particles, we can monitor the accumulation of these labeled immune cells at the rejecting graft as a non-invasive method to detect graft rejection. Cells can be labeled ex vivo and then infused into the animal, or MRI contrast agents can be introduced directly into the animal in vivo. Our results show excellent correlation among the MRI signal intensity due to the USPIO-labeled macrophages at the rejecting graft, immuno-staining for macrophages, histo-pathology for graft rejection, and the iron staining of tissue samples. In this article, we shall give a summary of our progress from detecting single immune cells in vitro to monitoring the accumulation of immune cells in vivo at the transplanted kidneys, hearts, and lungs in our rat models for organ transplantation by MRI.