June 18, 2008 -- An invitation from the European Commission has prompted the European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research (EIBIR) of Vienna, Austria to launch and coordinate a large, integrated research project called ENCITE (European Network for Cell Imaging and Tracking Expertise) that focuses on in vivo image guidance for cell therapy. The EU is supporting the four-year project with 11 million Euros. The effort includes 21 partners with expertise in cell imaging; a kick-off meeting will take place in Freising, Germany at the end of June 2008.
Three different principles underlie the increasing interest in cell therapy:
1. Transplanted cells used as an 'active drug'
2. Transplanted cells used to replace damaged and degenerated tissue.
3. Cells used as a drug delivery vehicle.
Promising results have been obtained in pre-clinical and clinical studies, but success rates have been variable and clinical benefits have been limited. A major issue is the fact that the mechanisms by which cell therapy works in the different disease areas are still poorly understood. The ability to non-invasively monitor the fate and modes of action of transplanted cells over time is mandatory.
In order to address the needs of the call and to address a significantly wide variety of cell therapies, horizontal (generic) and vertical (specific) subprojects within the ENCITE project comprise these objectives:
- New imaging methods to improve the spatio-temporal tracking of labelled cells
- Dual- and multimodality imaging procedures to cross-validate each individual approach
- New contrast agents and procedures that will improve the sensitivity and specificity of cellular labelling
- Combining of molecular biology for the generation of molecular and cellular imaging reporters with multimodal imaging techniques
The development of relevant imaging tools will lead to a better understanding of how cell therapy works, the possibility of response monitoring in patients and sufficient safety of the treatment.