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 or precision oncology),
- 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
Dr. James Basilion and his team are developing new imaging tools that can literally change the way doctors are looking at cancer and may revolutionize cancer surgeries and be particularly helpful with treatments for breast lumpectomies, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM – the most aggressive brain tumor), and skin cancers. 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. It may even reduce the spread of cancer.
Years of NFCR support to Dr. Basilion’s laboratory efforts have led to promising experimental imaging technology now being commercialized through the AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative. To learn more, click here.
Dr. Paul Fisher is developing gene therapies with IL/24, an immune modulator gene he discovered that causes primary and spreading tumor cells throughout the body to commit ‘cell suicide’ but is non-toxic to healthy cells. IL/24 also activates the immune system, inhibits new blood vessel formation to starve tumors of vital blood and nutrients, and sensitizes tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Dr. Fisher is developing a theranostic IL/24 gene therapy that also includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for a detection- and treatment-monitoring approach—known as theranostic. The fluorescent signal can be imaged using current non-invasive imaging techniques to detect the precise location of metastatic cells and monitor the tumor size after treatment. Dr. Fisher’s research is developing theranostic gene therapy first for prostate cancer but the therapy may be applicable to most types of solid tumors.