Theranostics 2022; 12(14):6339-6362. doi:10.7150/thno.72941 This issue

Research Paper

Polyglutamate-based nanoconjugates for image-guided surgery and post-operative melanoma metastases prevention

Yana Epshtein1†, Rachel Blau1,2†, Evgeni Pisarevsky1†, Shani Koshrovski-Michael1, Dikla Ben-Shushan1, Sabina Pozzi1, Gal Shenbach-Koltin1, Lidar Fridrich1, Marina Buzhor1, Adva Krivitsky1, Pradip Dey1, Ronit Satchi-Fainaro1✉

1. Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel.
2. Department of NanoEngineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, Mail Code 0448, La Jolla, CA 92093-0448
† These authors contributed equally to the work

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Epshtein Y, Blau R, Pisarevsky E, Koshrovski-Michael S, Ben-Shushan D, Pozzi S, Shenbach-Koltin G, Fridrich L, Buzhor M, Krivitsky A, Dey P, Satchi-Fainaro R. Polyglutamate-based nanoconjugates for image-guided surgery and post-operative melanoma metastases prevention. Theranostics 2022; 12(14):6339-6362. doi:10.7150/thno.72941. Available from

File import instruction


Graphic abstract

Rationale: Cutaneous melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest of all skin malignancies. Complete primary tumor removal augmented by advanced imaging tools and effective post-operative treatment is critical in the prevention of tumor recurrence and future metastases formation.

Methods: To meet this challenge, we designed novel polymeric imaging and therapeutic systems, implemented in a two-step theranostic approach. Both are composed of the biocompatible and biodegradable poly(α,L-glutamic acid) (PGA) nanocarrier that facilitates extravasation-dependent tumor targeting delivery. The first system is a novel, fluorescent, Turn-ON diagnostic probe evaluated for the precise excision of the primary tumor during image-guided surgery (IGS). The fluorescence activation of the probe occurs via PGA degradation by tumor-overexpressed cathepsins that leads to the separation of closely-packed, quenched FRET pair. This results in the emission of a strong fluorescence signal enabling the delineation of the tumor boundaries. Second, therapeutic step is aimed to prevent metastases formation with minimal side effects and maximal efficacy. To that end, a targeted treatment containing a BRAF (Dabrafenib - mDBF)/MEK (Selumetinib - SLM) inhibitors combined on one polymeric platform (PGA-SLM-mDBF) was evaluated for its anti-metastatic, preventive activity in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICPi) αPD1 and αCTLA4.

Results: IGS in melanoma-bearing mice led to a high tumor-to-background ratio and reduced tumor recurrence in comparison with mice that underwent surgery under white light (23% versus 33%, respectively). Adjuvant therapy with PGA-SLM-mDBF combined with ICPi, was well-tolerated and resulted in prolonged survival and prevention of peritoneal and brain metastases formation in BRAF-mutated melanoma-bearing mice.

Conclusions: The results reveal the great clinical potential of our PGA-based nanosystems as a tool for holistic melanoma treatment management.

Keywords: Polymeric nanomedicine, Image-guided surgery, BRAF/MEK inhibitors, PGA, Immune checkpoint inhibitors