Theranostics 2019; 9(20):5899-5913. doi:10.7150/thno.36321 This issue

Research Paper

Non-invasive In Vivo Imaging of Cancer Using Surface-Enhanced Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SESORS)

Fay Nicolson1, Bohdan Andreiuk1, Chrysafis Andreou2, Hsiao-Ting Hsu1, Scott Rudder3, Moritz F. Kircher1,4,5,6✉

1. Department of Radiology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York 10065, United States
2. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus
3. Innovative Photonic Solutions, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey 08852, United States
4. Center for Molecular Imaging and Nanotechnology (CMINT), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York 10065, United States
5. Molecular Pharmacology Program, Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York, New York 10065, United States
6. Department of Imaging, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, United States

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Nicolson F, Andreiuk B, Andreou C, Hsu HT, Rudder S, Kircher MF. Non-invasive In Vivo Imaging of Cancer Using Surface-Enhanced Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SESORS). Theranostics 2019; 9(20):5899-5913. doi:10.7150/thno.36321. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Rationale: The goal of imaging tumors at depth with high sensitivity and specificity represents a significant challenge in the field of biomedical optical imaging. 'Surface enhanced Raman scattering' (SERS) nanoparticles (NPs) have been employed as image contrast agents and can be used to specifically target cells in vivo. By tracking their unique “fingerprint” spectra, it becomes possible to determine their precise location. However, while the detection of SERS NPs is very sensitive and specific, conventional Raman spectroscopy imaging devices are limited in their inability to probe through tissue depths of more than a few millimetres, due to scattering and absorption of photons by biological tissues. Here, we combine the use of "Spatially Offset Raman spectroscopy" (SORS) with that of "surface-enhanced resonance Raman spectroscopy" (SERRS) in a technique known as "surface enhanced spatially offset resonance Raman spectroscopy" (SESO(R)RS) to image deep-seated glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) tumors in vivo in mice through the intact skull.

Methods: A SORS imaging system was built in-house. Proof of concept SORS imaging was achieved using a PTFE-skull-tissue phantom. Imaging of GBMs in the RCAS-PDGF/N-tva transgenic mouse model was achieved through the use of gold nanostars functionalized with a resonant Raman reporter to create SERRS nanostars. These were then encapsulated in a thin silica shell and functionalized with a cyclic-RGDyK peptide to yield integrin-targeting SERRS nanostars. Non-invasive in vivo SORS image acquisition of the integrin-targeted nanostars was then performed in living mice under general anesthesia. Conventional non-SORS imaging was used as a direct comparison.

Results: Using a low power density laser, GBMs were imaged via SESORRS in mice (n = 5) and confirmed using MRI and histopathology. The results demonstrate that via utilization of the SORS approach, it is possible to acquire clear and distinct Raman spectra from deep-seated GBMs in mice in vivo through the skull. SESORRS images generated using classical least squares outlined the tumors with high precision as confirmed via MRI and histology. Unlike SESORRS, conventional Raman imaging of the same areas did not provide a clear delineation of the tumor.

Conclusion: To the best of our knowledge this is the first report of in vivo SESO(R)RS imaging. In a relevant brain tumor mouse model we demonstrate that this technique can overcome the limitations of conventional Raman imaging with regards to penetration depth. This work therefore represents a significant step forward in the potential clinical translation of SERRS nanoparticles for high precision cancer imaging.

Keywords: cancer imaging, glioblastoma, in vivo, nanoparticles, Raman, SERS, SERRS, SORS, SESORS, SESORRS, optical imaging, spectroscopy.