"Monitoring of anti-rheumatic drug delivery in experimental models and in human diseases would undoubtedly be very helpful for both basic research and clinical management of inflammatory diseases. In this study, we have investigated the potential of an emerging hybrid imaging technology--photoacoustic tomography--in noninvasive monitoring of anti-TNF drug delivery. After the contrast agent composed of gold nanorods conjugated with Etanercept molecules was produced, ELISA experiments were performed to prove the conjugation and to show that the conjugated anti-TNF-a drug was biologically active. PAT of ex vivo rat tail joints with the joint connective tissue enhanced by intra-articularly injected contrast agent was conducted to examine the performance of PAT in visualizing the distribution of the gold-nanorod-conjugated drug in articular tissues. By using the described system, gold nanorods with a concentration down to 1 pM in phantoms or 10 pM in biological tissues can be imaged with good signal-to-noise ratio and high spatial resolution. This study demonstrates the feasibility of conjugating TNF antagonist pharmaceutical preparations with gold nanorods, preservation of the mechanism of action of TNF antagonist along with preliminary evaluation of novel PAT technology in imaging optical contrast agents conjugated with anti-rheumatic drugs. Further in vivo studies on animals are warranted to test the specific binding between such conjugates and targeted antigen in joint tissues affected by inflammation.
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