Photoacoustic imaging of single circulating melanoma cells in vivo
Melanoma, one of the most common types of skin cancer, has a high mortality rate, mainly due to a high propensity for tumor metastasis. The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) is a potential predictor for metastasis. Label-free imaging of single circulating melanoma cells in vivo provides rich information on tumor progress. Here we present photoacoustic microscopy of single melanoma cells in living animals. We used a fast-scanning optical-resolution photoacoustic microscope to image the microvasculature in mouse ears. The imaging system has sub-cellular spatial resolution and works in reflection mode. A fast-scanning mirror allows the system to acquire fast volumetric images over a large field of view. A 500-kHz pulsed laser was used to image blood and CTCs. Single circulating melanoma cells were imaged in both capillaries and trunk vessels in living animals. These high-resolution images may be used in early detection of CTCs with potentially high sensitivity. In addition, this technique enables in vivo study of tumor cell extravasation from a primary tumor, which addresses an urgent pre-clinical need.