Owing to the diversity of cancer types and the spatiotemporal heterogeneity of tumour signals, high-resolution imaging of occult malignancy is challenging. 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography allows for near-universal cancer detection, yet in many clinical scenarios it is hampered by false positives. Here, we report a method for the amplification of imaging contrast in tumours via the temporal integration of the imaging signals triggered by tumour acidosis. This method exploits the catastrophic disassembly, at the acidic pH of the tumour milieu, of pH-sensitive positron-emitting neutral copolymer micelles into polycationic polymers, which are then internalized and retained by the cancer cells. Positron emission tomography imaging of the 64Cu-labelled polymers detected small occult tumours (10–20 mm3) in the brain, head, neck and breast of mice at much higher contrast than 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose, 11C-methionine and pH-insensitive 64Cu-labelled nanoparticles. We also show that the pH-sensitive probes reduce false positive detection rates in a mouse model of non-cancerous lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation. This macromolecular strategy for integrating tumour acidosis should enable improved cancer detection, surveillance and staging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-324
Number of pages11
JournalNature Biomedical Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications


Dive into the research topics of 'PET imaging of occult tumours by temporal integration of tumour-acidosis signals from pH-sensitive 64Cu-labelled polymers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this