Researchers developed a new imaging tracking system for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) that is a noninvasive and real-time tracking method of transplanted human mesenchymal stem cells under nintedanib.

This new system offers new insight into the role of stem cells in combination with small drugs in the treatment of IPF and advanced stem cell-based regenerative medicine, as published in Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine.

Mesenchymal stem cells have been promising in the treatment of IPF. However, their use in the clinic is limited due to the fact that they have low survival rates and ambiguous behavior after they are transplanted into the lungs. 

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Here, a team of researchers led by Zhijun Zhang from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei developed a new strategy to improve the survival rate of transplanted mesenchymal stem cells and monitor their behavior following transplantation.

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They used nintedanib to protect the cells from oxidative stress and the inflammatory environment in the lungs.

Nintedanib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor indicated for the treatment of IPF. It affects signaling pathways associated with the proliferation, migration, and transformation of lung fibroblasts and therefore reduces fibrosis.

The researchers labeled the cells with a computed tomography nano tracer called [email protected]@PEG plus red-emitting firefly luciferase, which allowed them to track their location and distribution in the lungs as well as their survival.

This system will facilitate “the profound understanding of the role the stem cells play in IPF therapy,” the researchers said.


Li X, Yu C, Bao H, et al. CT/bioluminescence dual-modal imaging tracking of stem cells labeled with [email protected]@PEG nanotracers and RfLuc in nintedanib-assisted pulmonary fibrosis therapy. Nanomedicine. Published online January 13, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.nano.2022.102517