ENCITE - the European Network for Cell Imaging and Tracking Expertise - is a four year project that started in June 2008 and consists of 29 international scientific partners from ten countries, with the European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research (EIBIR) as coordinating partner.
The European Network for Cell Imaging and Tracking Expertise (ENCITE) comprises five main areas of work, namely novel imaging technologies, novel imaging reporter probes, novel tools for cell labelling, pre-clinical validation, and translation towards clinical application.
The overall generic objective is to establish and validate cell homing for therapeutic delivery to target organs, and the major disease-oriented objective relates to the improvement of existing cell-based therapies in the treatment of cancer. Specifically, project objectives include:
- the development of new imaging methods to improve the spatio-temporal tracking of labelled cells;
- the generation of dual- and multimodality imaging procedures;
- the generation of procedures that will improve the sensitivity and specificity of cellular labelling;
- new methods for quantitative assessment are being developed that will generate reliable biomarkers of the cell fate and therapeutic effects;
- establishing the clinical potential of novel imaging approaches in preclinical studies related to neurological, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases, as well as to cancer and diabetes.
The project is funded by the European Commission within the 7th Framework Programme, Health, In vivo image-guidance for cell therapy. ENCITE is a large-scale integrating project.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
ENCITE is structured around 5 different subprojects and a huge variety of outstanding work packages within the subprojects, leading from novel imaging technologies, via novel imaging reporter probes, novel tools for cell labelling, pre clinical validation and translation towards clinical applications to project management.
Thanks to a strong collaboration of 26 European institutes and three from Israel with outstanding expertise in cell imaging and tracking, the consortium has the ambitious mission to develop and test new MR and optical imaging methods and biomarkers to get a more comprehensive picture of cell fate and the reaction of the immune system and to ultimately improve and further develop cell therapy for the benefit of the European patient.
To ensure that all national and European ethical issues are given appropriate attention in the project work performed, ethical advisors are contributing as external experts. In addition, the ENCITE Advisory Board, composed of co-opted scientific experts, will bring in an independent view and the ability to challenge the direction of the project scientific programme.Â
Main results, benefits and impacts
In order to be able to address the extremely wide variety of cell therapies, the objectives of ENCITE have been divided into generic and disease-oriented objectives.
The generic project objectives include the development of new imaging methods to improve the spatio-temporal tracking of labelled cells, the generation of dual- and multimodality imaging procedures,and the generation of procedures that will improve the sensitivity and specificity of cellular labelling. For the generation of molecular and cellular imaging reporters, the potential of combining molecular biology with multimodal imaging techniques is being explored, and novel cell and animal reporter systems are being generated that will enable detection of the location and function of individual cells and small cell subsets within the target organ.
Appropriate cellular labelling techniques that do not interfere with cellular functions and therapeutic efficacy are being established and new methods for quantitative assessment are being developed that will generate reliable biomarkers of the cell fate and therapeutic effects. The overall aim is to establish and validate cell homing for therapeutic delivery to target organs. Legal and ethical issues associated with the use of new agents and methodologies will be properly addressed.
Regarding disease-specific project objectives, the project aims at establishing the clinical potential of novel imaging approaches in preclinical studies related to neurological, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases, as well as to cancer and diabetes. One of the major project objectives relates to the improvement of existing cell-based therapies in the treatment of cancer.
ENCITE looks back at a very successful project year and is proud to have achieved first outstanding key results within the subjects novel imaging technologies and novel tools for cell labelling:
- MR imaging methods for cell tracking based on iron oxides were successfully implemented, and clinical methodologies for preclinical evaluation of novel drugs were adapted and optimised.
- Preliminary experiments were successfully carried out regarding novel tools for cell labelling and cell fate imaging (recruitment, differentiation, and cell death).
A special highlight was the successful construction of the Adenovirus TK vector. As for cell fate imaging, experiments showed that it is possible to image tumour stroma cell activation and differentiation by fluorescence intravital microscopy.
In addition, the project consortium is proud on its first ENCITE Educational Workshop on molecular imaging, held in Prague from 7-8 May, 2009 with more than 100 delegates.