Fluorescent probes that can selectively detect tumour lesions have great potential for fluorescence imaging-guided surgery. Here, we established a library-based approach for efficient screening of probes for tumour-selective imaging based on discovery of biomarker enzymes. We constructed a combinatorial fluorescent probe library for aminopeptidases and proteases, which is composed of 380 probes with various substrate moieties. Using this probe library, we performed lysate-based in vitro screening and/or direct imaging-based ex vivo screening of freshly resected clinical specimens from lung or gastric cancer patients, and found promising probes for tumour-selective visualization. Further, we identified two target enzymes as novel biomarker enzymes for discriminating between tumour and non-tumour tissues. This library-based approach is expected to be an efficient tool to develop tumour-imaging probes and to discover new biomarker enzyme activities for various tumours and other diseases.
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