For centuries, biological discoveries were based on optical imaging, in particular microscopy but also several chromophoric assays and photographic approaches. With the recent emergence of methods appropriate for bio-marker in vivo staining, such as bioluminescence, fluorescent molecular probes and proteins, as well as nanoparticle-based targeted agents, significant attention has been shifted toward in vivo interrogations of different dynamic biological processes at the molecular level. This progress has been largely supported by the development of advanced tomographic imaging technologies suitable for obtaining volumetric visualization of bio-marker distributions in small animals at a whole-body or whole-organ scale, an imaging frontier that is not accessible by the existing tissue-sectioning microscopic techniques due to intensive light scattering beyond the depth of a few hundred microns. Major examples of such recently developed optical imaging modalities are reviewed here, including bioluminescence tomography (BLT), fluorescence molecular tomography (FMT), and optical projection tomography (OPT). The pharmaceutical imaging community has quickly appropriated itself of these novel forms of optical imaging, since they come with very compelling advantages, such as quantitative three-dimensional capabilities, direct correlation to the biological cultures, easiness and cost-effectiveness of use, and the use of safe non-ionizing radiation. Some multi-modality approaches, combining light with other imaging modalities such as X-Ray CT or MRI, giving the ability to acquire both an optical contrast reconstruction along with a hi-fidelity anatomical images, are also reviewed. A separate section is devoted to the hybrid imaging techniques based on the optoacoustic phenomenon, such as multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT), which are poised to leverage the traditional contrast and specificity advantages of optical spectrum by delivering an ever powerful set of capabilities, including real-time operation and high spatial resolution, not affected by the scattering nature of biological tissues.
Keywords: Optical molecular imaging, drug discovery, optoacoustic tomography, small animals, contrast agents, in-vivo imaging, bioluminescence tomography (BLT), nanoparticle-based targeted agents, different dynamic biological processes, optical projection tomography (OPT), bioluminescence, fluorescence molecular tomography (FMT), immunohistochemistry, illumination microscopy, biological tissues
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