What is Molecular Imaging?
Molecular imaging provides detailed pictures of what is happening inside the body at the molecular and cellular levels. Molecular imaging procedures are minimally-invasive and target distinct molecular pathways.
Other diagnostic imaging procedures – such as x-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds – offer pictures of a physical structure, but molecular imaging allows doctors to see the pathways and mechanisms as they are occurring in a living organism. They can then assess how the body is functioning, identify if a disease is present and measure chemical and biological processes.
Molecular imaging can help doctors determine (and determine sooner):
- The extent or severity of a disease (including whether it has spread),
- The most effective personalized treatments based on a patient’s unique genetics (also known as precision medicine),
- A patient’s expected response to a specific drug,
- How to adapt treatment plans in response to changes in cellular activity, and;
- Disease progression to identify recurrence or help manage ongoing care.
NFCR Research Highlights
At the NFCR Center for Molecular Imaging, led by Dr. James Basilion, new tools are being developed that can literally change the way doctors are looking at cancer. One newly-designed molecular probe allows researchers to view multiple molecular biomarkers simultaneously and see a tumor’s genetic structure in real-time. This visualization allows for the very early detection of tiny tumors that will greatly improve treatment outcomes. Additionally, the team developed an imaging technique that may revolutionize cancer surgeries and be particularly helpful with treatments for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM – the most aggressive brain tumor), skin cancers and with breast lumpectomies. This new technology allows surgeons to assess the margins of their surgeries as they are being conducted to see if all cancer cells have been removed. This novel approach could dramatically reduce re-excision rates and reduce or eliminate local tumor recurrence.
Dr. Robert Bast’s laboratory, which is supported by NFCR funding, is developing a more sensitive imaging technology called a Superconducting Quantum Interfering Device (SQUID). This device aims to improve the sensitivity to detect tiny, early-stage tumors over existing techniques, such as CT scans, MRIs and PET-CTs.