In Vivo Imaging in Tumor Models

Imaging is a critical tool in oncology, applied in diagnostics, longitudinal monitoring of therapy response, and research. Applying imaging techniques traditionally used in the clinic, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), is a translational way to monitor the same readouts throughout your drug development program. These technologies in addition to optical imaging allow you to follow tumor growth and possible metastasis in your in vivo tumor studies. 

The Power of In Vivo Imaging

Traditional in vivo tumor models have few quantifiable intermediate readouts, and measurements are often dependent on survival. However, in vivo imaging offers many advantages, including:

  • Translational, quantitative results
    • Functional readouts
    • Pharmacodynamic effects and mechanism of action
  • Longitudinal quantitative analysis
    • Reduces the total number of mice per study with follow up of each animal at several time points
    • Additional data in a clinically-relevant setting
  • Highly sensitive and noninvasive
  • Comprehensive, fast visualization of pathology and tumor load
    • Early stage tumor/micro-metastasis analysis (e.g., after orthotopic implant)
    • Visualization of biodistribution of compounds, such as antibodies, ADCs, nanoparticles, and small molecules in vivo
    • Precise assessment of anatomy and disease morphology

Preclinical Imaging: A Translational Approach to Assess New Cancer Treatments

Preclinical Imaging: A Translational Approach to Assess New Cancer Treatments

Learn how we use preclinical imaging to document pathological findings, and how the predictive nature of these translational tools supports your development of new therapies.

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Types of Oncology In Vivo Imaging

Bioluminescence and Fluorescence Imaging: Optical imaging (e.g., IVIS) allows you to monitor a range of bioluminescent/ fluorescent biomarkers to study tumor growth – study multiple biomarkers to answer several biological questions in the same experiment.
Anatomical Imaging: MRI, X-ray and computed tomography (CT), provides precise information about anatomical pathologies and tissue homeostasis.
Functional Imaging: PET and SPECT quantifies radioactively labelled compounds, allowing you to monitor biological processes like metabolism, proliferation, and inflammation, over time.

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Bioluminescence and Fluorescence Imaging

Using optical in vivo imaging (bioluminescence and fluorescence imaging) in your preclinical models, you can visualize numerous possible biological events happening within a live animal. In addition to seeing when and where molecular processes are taking place, this technique can help you monitor tumor growth and metastasis.



Bioluminescence and fluorescence imaging is especially valuable in orthotopic models, tracking tumor growth and metastasis in a tissue-specific tumor environment. Optical imaging is easily applied to all of Charles River’s model systems, including PDX, syngeneic and cell line-derived xenografts. If you’re uncertain which model is right for your studies, our experts can help you select from a wide range of luciferase cell lines in multiple histotypes. Our continued investment in development ensures this portfolio continues to grow so you can test and track your cancer therapies in the most disease-relevant systems.

Our team has validated the use of 2D and 3D in vivo optical imaging for applications such as:

  • Biodistribution of antibodies
  • Distribution of immune cells in tumor-bearing animals
  • Quantification of cancer-related biomarkers
  • Size and location of tumors

Oncology imaging data can help researchers optimize dose and delivery strategies, which ultimately improves a therapy’s translation to the clinic. More complex studies use a combination of luciferase and fluorescence imaging to track two differently radiolabeled tumors and therapies within a precise anatomical microenvironment to reveal new options to improve treatment outcomes. Watch the Webinar


Anatomical Imaging in Oncology Studies

Example of Anatomical Imaging.CT and MRI are widely used in clinical diagnosis and monitoring therapy response in patients. MRI shows excellent soft tissue contrast to detect pathologies, making it the most accurate technology, especially in brain cancer research. Combined with absolute T2 mapping, these changes can be converted as numerical values for precise quantification.

MRI applications in oncology studies include the visualization and monitoring of lesions, atrophy, tumor volumetry, blood-brain barrier, white matter, hemorrhages, metabolites and target engagement.

In preclinical research, CT is often combined with nuclear imaging technologies for precise co-localization of functional and anatomical readouts.


Functional Imaging in Oncology Studies

Example of Functional Imaging.Functional imaging techniques, like PET (positron emission tomography) & SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography), are used in oncology research to identify pathological areas within the body based on altered biological functions. It can be efficiently used to study biodistribution and targeting properties of novel agents.

Functional oncology imaging applications:

  • Dividing accumulated/metabolically active cell regions,
  • Incomplete perfusion/necrotic areas
  • Biodistribution/PK of agents
  • Inflammation
  • Cell proliferation


Example Data: MRI In Vivo Imaging in pediatric PDX glioma model

In vivo imaging in pediatric PDX glioma model

Figure 1: Anatomical imaging post-implantation in pediatric PDX glioma model. Anatomical images (upper panel) as coronal slices are shown in caudal to rostral direction from 2 individuals (A-B) with corresponding T2 heat maps (lower panel).


In vivo imaging delivers critical quantification and locational data to elucidate your drug’s efficacy and mechanism of action.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Oncology In Vivo Imaging

  • Why I should include imaging in my oncology study?

    Oncology imaging is one of the most sensitive and translational biomarkers in clinics, and so it is a key component of your drug discovery program. It provides essential early information from rodent models that mirrors clinical scenarios. For example, FDG-PET can be the decision-making point in the clinic, and unexpected results can slow progress and increase the costs of further experiments.

  • Which type of in vivo imaging is best for my oncology imaging research?

    In vivo imaging of tumor models provides quantifiable data directly translates to the clinic. Each type of imaging can provide different data. The most suitable oncology imaging technology depends on the question you’re trying to answer and the phase of your program. Optical imaging allows you to monitor multiple bioluminescent and fluorescent biomarkers in real-time, so you can answer multiple questions at once, e.g., quantifying tumor progression and monitoring metastasis. Functional imaging allows you to monitor molecular processes; when combined with anatomical imaging, you can obtain location-specific information.

  • How can I use in vivo imaging for orthotopic models?

    In vivo imaging in orthotopic models imaging is the key technology to monitor tumor growth and possible metastatic spread, as traditional volumetry with caliper instruments is not possible. Including imaging for the study enables most precise way to monitor tumor growth longitudinally within individuals. Charles River offers a wide selection of imaging technologies and luciferase cell lines across histotypes for tracking disease-relevant response to anti-cancer therapies.