The STARSTEM team gathered in Munich on the 9th and 10th of January to mark the mid-way point of the project. The Technical University of Munich hosted the meeting at TranslaTUM in Munich, Germany. We are now two years into a four-year project.

The meeting began with a warm welcome from STARSTEM Coordinator Prof Martin Leahy, of TOMI-NUI Galway. Over the two day meeting, the team discussed scale-up of our nanostar synthesis from small laboratory volumes to large batch production; the production of cell therapies within STARSTEM, including Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) and the isolation of extracellular vesicles; and in vitro and in vivo pre-clinical work carried out over the past six months.

To date, we have optimised the design of our nanostar, ensuring that this contrast medium will absorb light at ideal wavelengths for optoacoustic imaging (OAI) with MSOT. This optimised design will ensure that we attain images at unprecedented depth, with excellent sensitivity, and can identify and track our targets.

Our team has also labelled MSCs with nanostars and has assessed the effects of this labelling process on the functional properties of the cells. This is a key enabler for our pre-clinical in vivo research.

Imaging protocols have been defined, and preliminary studies with nano-sensitive OCT (optical coherence tomography, another highly sensitive imaging modality) have shown that we can detect small structural changes within tissue as well as visualise submicron alterations to the structure of MSCs and the medium/matrix.

Early studies, where we imaged a human finger using OAI and MRI, were carried out to understand how the different imaging modalities can work together. This pilot study is helping us to develop co-registration algorithms that will enable us to compare and combine OAI and MRI images.

In addition, we have defined methods for tracking MSCs containing SPIONs (magnetic nanoparticles that are conjugated to our nanostar) in large animal joints with MRI.