Nanotubes-Embedded Indocyanine Green–Hyaluronic Acid Nanoparticles for Photoacoustic-Imaging-Guided Phototherapy

Phototherapy is a light-triggered treatment for tumor ablation and growth inhibition via photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photothermal therapy (PTT). Despite extensive studies in this area, a major challenge is the lack of selective and effective phototherapy agents that can specifically accumulate in tumors to reach a therapeutic concentration. Although recent attempts have produced photosensitizers complexed with photothermal nanomaterials, the tedious preparation steps and poor tumor efficiency of therapy still hampers the broad utilization of these nanocarriers. Herein, we developed a CD44 targeted photoacoustic (PA) nanophototherapy agent by conjugating Indocyanine Green (ICG) to hyaluronic acid nanoparticles (HANPs) encapsulated with single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), resulting in a theranostic nanocomplex of ICG-HANP/SWCNTs (IHANPT). We fully characterized its physical features as well as PA imaging and photothermal and photodynamic therapy properties <i>in vitro</i> and <i>in vivo</i>. Systemic delivery of IHANPT theranostic nanoparticles led to the accumulation of the targeted nanoparticles in tumors in a human cancer xenograft model in nude mice. PA imaging confirmed targeted delivery of the IHANPT nanoparticles into tumors (T/M ratio = 5.19 ± 0.3). The effect of phototherapy was demonstrated by low-power laser irradiation (808 nm, 0.8 W/cm<sup>2</sup>) to induce efficient photodynamic effect from ICG dye. The photothermal effect from the ICG and SWCNTs rapidly raised the tumor temperature to 55.4 ± 1.8 °C. As the result, significant tumor growth inhibition and marked induction of tumor cell death and necrosis were observed in the tumors in the tumors. There were no apparent systemic and local toxic effects found in the mice. The dynamic thermal stability of IHANPT was studied to ensure that PTT does not affect ICG-dependent PDT in phototherapy. Therefore, our results highlight imaging property and therapeutic effect of the novel IHANPT theranostic nanoparticle for CD44 targeted and PA image-guided dual PTT and PDT cancer therapy.