Press Releases


Cell marking opens up a window into the body

Researchers at the University of Tübingen develop methods to track cells in mice which could help to reduce animal experiments

Images: Robert Feil und Bernd Pichler / Universität Tübingen

Scientists from the University of Tübingen have developed a method by which they can target specific cell types in mice and monitor their behavior using positron emission tomography (PET). This reliable method of cell tracking allows scientists to observe complex processes in the body without subjecting test animals to invasive methods. The method can simplify research into diseases such as myocardial infarction, diabetes or Alzheimer's disease and reduce the use of test animals. Professor Feil and his team from the Interfaculty Institute of Biochemistry (IFIB) at the University of Tübingen conducted the study together with the Werner Siemens Imaging Center and the Departments of Cardiology, Pathology and Physiology at University Hospital Tübingen and researchers in Nuclear Medicine at the Münster University Hospital. Their results have now been published in the journal Nature Communications.

“The ability to actively observe the behavior of selected cell populations in vivo without invasive methods opens up new avenues for research, detection and treatment of diseases. At the same time, it reduces the burden and number of animals required in comparison to previous methods,” says Professor Robert Feil.

Tissues and organs consist of many different cell types. While cell migration or changes in the number of specific cell types are normal processes in the body, they are also linked to many diseases like inflammation, cancer or arteriosclerosis. Diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are, for instance, connected to the loss of certain cell populations. Because such processes arise from complex interactions of different cell types, the entire organism has to be studied to understand them properly.

The new cell tracking method is based on an artificial PET reporter enzyme, which can be produced by a genetic trick in each cell type of the mouse (for example, only in T-cells of the immune system). The PET method has been used in humans for a long time and, being a non-invasive procedure, it causes less burden than other diagnostic methods.

The research on PET-based cell tracking is relevant to the “Principles of animal protection and animal experiments at the University of Tübingen”. As Dr. Martin Thunemann, first author of the publication, explains: “By using modern imaging techniques, we can achieve a reduction in the number of test animals by up to 80 percent. The marked cell populations can be monitored non-invasively in living mice for many weeks, so that the same group of animals can be examined repeatedly.”

The new method is suitable for a wide range of applications in research and therapy, spanning from the non-invasive analysis of cardiac diseases and cancer, over tracking of transplanted cells in regenerative medicine to the development of therapeutic concepts in the pharmaceutical industry.

For further information on this study, see:

<link https: www.uni-tuebingen.de uploads media external-link-new-window external link in new>Press Release (English)

<link https: www.uni-tuebingen.de uploads media external-link-new-window external link in new>Press Release (German)

Original Publication:

Thunemann M, Schörg BF, Feil S, Lin Y, Voelkl J, Golla M, Vachaviolos A, Kohlhofer U, Quintanilla-Martinez L, Olbrich M, Ehrlichmann W, Reischl G, Griessinger CM, Langer HF, Gawaz M, Lang F, Schollers, Kneil M, Pichler BJ, Feil R. Cre / lox-assisted non-invasive in vivo tracking of specific cell populations by positron emission tomography. Nature Communications. 2017; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00482-y

<link http: rdcu.be vaq6 external-link-new-window external link in new>Link to publication


Prof. Dr. Robert Feil
University of Tübingen
Interfaculty Institute of Biochemistry
Phone +49 7071 29-73350