Enhancing radiotracers for better disease diagnosis

Biomedical imaging has revolutionised medicine, granting doctors a window into miniscule molecular and cellular processes inside the body. An EU-funded project helped to expand the view, developing innovative radiochemistry concepts and techniques that could lead to earlier diagnosis of diseases - saving lives.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


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Published: 4 April 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Health & life sciencesBiotechnology  |  Major diseases  |  Medical research
Human resources & mobilityCareers & mobility  |  Marie Curie Actions  |  Training
Innovation
International cooperation
Research policyOpen to the world  |  Seventh Framework Programme
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Finland  |  France  |  Hungary  |  Netherlands  |  Spain  |  Ukraine  |  United Kingdom
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Enhancing radiotracers for better disease diagnosis

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© natali_mis #194006555, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com

Radiotracers are molecules labelled with radioactive atoms that are essential to precision imaging technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET). By tracking the activity of special radiotracers designed to accumulate in tumours, areas of inflammation or certain types of cells, non-invasive PET imaging scans can detect disease long before it is evident in other tests, including many types of cancer, heart disease and gastrointestinal, endocrine or neurological disorders.

Different radiotracer molecules enable PET machines to track different cells and hence detect various processes occurring in the body with varying levels of clarity. The EU-funded RADIOMI project expanded the range and functionality of radiotracers, improving the imaging available and the ability of pharmacologists to develop and evaluate new treatments.

Among the project’s main achievements was the development of innovative radiochemistry techniques to improve diagnosis, and the monitoring of disease progression or drug discovery using radioactive isotopes of molecules such as fluorine-18, carbon-11 and nitrogen-13.

‘The main limitation in the use of PET is that it requires molecules labelled with short-lived radioactive atoms,’ says RADIOMI coordinator Véronique Gouverneur at the University of Oxford in the UK. ‘The preparation of these labelled molecules is very challenging and involves synthetic strategies and technological resources that differ significantly from classical chemistry. We are therefore addressing one of the key aspects of functional biomedical imaging – the radiochemistry essential for the preparation of radiotracers, many of which are currently difficult to create.’

Innovative techniques

RADIOMI researchers developed simple, fast and efficient techniques to label amino acids with nitrogen-13, turning these ubiquitous essential building blocks of proteins into excellent tracers for investigating metabolic processes via PET scans.

They also developed new fluorine-18 reagents to access radiotracers that are difficult or not possible to obtain via conventional radiochemistry, as well as designing a more efficient process to use carbon-11, a radioisotope essential for diagnosing and monitoring Alzheimer’s disease, among other applications.

The work has opened new pathways for ongoing research by members of the RADIOMI team, including collaboration with a pharmaceutical company to create novel molecules of pharmaceutical interest using carbon-11. Furthermore, two follow-up projects in Spain focused on using nitrogen-13-labelled amino acids to study prostate cancer tumour development.

Another RADIOMI researcher expanded on fundamental work into controlling fluoride reactivity through hydrogen bonding, a discovery that led to the invention of a new class of catalyst with applications in drug discovery.

RADIOMI was funded through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship programme and supported young and early-stage researchers in cutting-edge work on radiotracers. The ongoing research by RADIOMI participants underscores the success of the training activities carried out in the project that expanded the career horizons of 18 research fellows across Europe, Gouverneur says.

‘Molecular imaging is a booming research field of critical importance to facilitate diagnosis of disease, to monitor response to therapy, and to streamline the process of drug development with significant social and economic benefits,’ she adds. ‘However, access to trained individuals has been limited and there is intense competition for the same pool of talent in Europe and internationally. RADIOMI has successfully demonstrated how training networks can have a direct positive impact by producing a new crop of highly trained people in radiochemistry, many of whom have gone on to fill important unmet needs in the field.’.

Project details

  • Project acronym: RADIOMI
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator), Finland, Netherlands, Hungary, France, Spain
  • Project N°: 316882
  • Total costs: € 3 918 481
  • EU contribution: € 3 918 481
  • Duration: November 2012 to October 2016

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