Theranostics 2022; 12(2):542-557. doi:10.7150/thno.64340 This issue


Light on osteoarthritic joint: from bench to bed

Yingying Zhou1,2*, Junguo Ni1*, Chunyi Wen1,2,3✉, Puxiang Lai1,2,4✉

1. Department of Biomedical Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong SAR
2. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Shenzhen Research Institute, Shenzhen, China
3. Research Institute of Smart Ageing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, HKSAR
4. Photonics Research Institute, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, HKSAR
* These authors contributed equally

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Zhou Y, Ni J, Wen C, Lai P. Light on osteoarthritic joint: from bench to bed. Theranostics 2022; 12(2):542-557. doi:10.7150/thno.64340. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the rapidly growing disability-associated conditions with population aging worldwide. There is a pressing need for precise diagnosis and timely intervention for OA in the early stage. Current clinical imaging modalities, including pain radiography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, and optical coherent tomography, are limited to provide structural changes when the damage has been established or advanced. It prompts further endeavors in search of novel functional and molecular imaging, which potentially enables early diagnosis and intervention of OA. A hybrid imaging modality based on photothermal effects, photoacoustic imaging, has drawn wide attention in recent years and has seen a variety of biomedical applications, due to its great performance in yielding high-contrast and high-resolution images from structure to function, from tissue down to molecular levels, from animals to human subjects. Photoacoustic imaging has witnessed gratifying potentials and preliminary effects in OA diagnosis. Regarding the treatment of OA, photothermal-triggered therapy has exhibited its attractions for enhanced therapeutic outcomes. In this narrative review, we will discuss photoacoustic imaging for the diagnosis and monitoring of OA at different stages. Structural, functional, and molecular parameter changes associated with OA joints captured by photoacoustics will be summarized, forming the diagnosis perspective of the review. Photothermal therapy applications related to OA will also be discussed herein. Lastly, relevant clinical applications and its potential solutions to extend photoacoustic imaging to deeper OA situations have been proposed. Although some aspects may not be covered, this mini review provides a better understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of OA with exciting innovations based on tissue photothermal effects. It may also inspire more explorations in the field towards earlier and better theranostics of OA.

Keywords: Osteoarthritis, photoacoustic imaging, photothermal therapy, cartilage, synovium