Cell-based therapy holds great promise for cancer treatment. The ability to non-invasively track the delivery of various therapeutic cells (e.g. T cells and stem cells) to the tumor site, and/or subsequent differentiation/proliferation of these cells, would allow better understanding of the mechanisms of cancer development and intervention. This brief review will summarize the various methods for non-invasive cell tracking in cancer and cancer therapy. In general, there are two approaches for cell tracking: direct (cells are labeled with certain tags that can be detected directly with suitable imaging equipment) and indirect cell labeling (which typically uses reporter genes approach). The techniques for tracking various cell types (e.g. immune cells, stem cells, and cancer cells) in cancer are described, which include fluorescence, bioluminescence, positron emission tomography (PET), single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Non-invasive tracking of immune and stem cells were primarily intended for (potential) cancer therapy applications while tracking of cancer cells could further our understanding of cancer development and tumor metastasis. Safety is a major concern for future clinical applications and the ideal imaging modality for tracking therapeutic cells in cancer patients requires the imaging tags to be non-toxic, biocompatible, and highly specific. Each imaging modality has its advantages and disadvantages and they are more complementary than competitive. MRI, radionuclide-based imaging techniques, and reporter gene-based approaches will each have their own niches towards the same ultimate goal: personalized medicine for cancer patients.
Keywords: Cancer, cell tracking, cancer therapy, stem cells, positron emission tomography, molecular imaging, optical imaging, magnetic resonance imaging