Theranostics 2019; 9(13):3812-3824. doi:10.7150/thno.32546

Research Paper

Development of a stem cell tracking platform for ophthalmic applications using ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging

Kelsey P. Kubelick1*, Eric J. Snider1*, C. Ross Ethier1, Stanislav Emelianov1,2✉

1. Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University School of Medicine, 313 Ferst Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30332 USA
2. School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 777 Atlantic Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA
*Equal contribution

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Kubelick KP, Snider EJ, Ethier CR, Emelianov S. Development of a stem cell tracking platform for ophthalmic applications using ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging. Theranostics 2019; 9(13):3812-3824. doi:10.7150/thno.32546. Available from

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Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Disease progression is associated with reduced cellularity in the trabecular meshwork (TM), a fluid drainage tissue in the anterior eye. A promising therapy seeks to deliver stem cells to the TM to regenerate the tissue and restore its function. However, like many stem cell-based regenerative therapies, preclinical development relies heavily on histology to evaluate outcomes. To expedite clinical translation, we are developing an ultrasound/photoacoustic (US/PA) imaging platform for longitudinal tracking of stem cells in the anterior eye.

Methods: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) were labeled with gold nanospheres in vitro and injected through the cornea into the anterior chamber of ex vivo porcine eyes. Physiological pressure was imposed to mimic in vivo conditions. AuNS-labeled MSCs were injected through the cornea while single-wavelength US/PA images were acquired. At 5 hours post-injection, three-dimensional multi-wavelength US/PA datasets were acquired and spectroscopic analysis was used to detect AuNS-labeled MSCs. US/PA results were compared to fluorescent microscopy.

Results: The US/PA imaging platform was able to provide real-time monitoring of the stem cell injection and distinguish AuNS-labeled MSCs from highly absorbing background tissues in the anterior segment.

Conclusion: Our US/PA imaging approach can inform preclinical studies of stem cell therapies for glaucoma treatment, motivating further development of this theranostic imaging tool for ophthalmic applications.

Keywords: glaucoma, ultrasound/photoacoustic imaging, stem cell tracking, regenerative medicine, trabecular meshwork.