By slightly modifying the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, researchers at UCLA have been able to utilize PET scanning to visualize three dimensionally the immune system and its response to cancer treatment. The new probe will allow oncologists to monitor the effectiveness of cancer treatments as well as the effect of chemotherapy on the immune system. Here’s more from UCLA:
The probe is based on a fundamental cell biochemical pathway called the DNA salvage pathway, which acts as a sort of recycling mechanism that helps with DNA replication and repair. All cells use this biochemical pathway to different degrees. But in lymphocytes and macrophages, the cells of the immune system that initiate immune response, the pathway is activated at very high levels. Because of that, the probe accumulates at high levels in those cells, said the study’s senior author, Dr. Owen Witte, a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
“This is not a cure or a new treatment, but it will help us to more effectively model and measure the immune system,” said Witte, who also serves as director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA. “Monitoring immune function using molecular imaging could significantly impact the diagnosis and treatment evaluation of immunological disorders, as well as evaluating whether certain therapies are effective.”
Because the probe is labeled with positron-emitting particles, cells that take it in glow “hot” under PET scanning, which operates as a molecular camera that enables visualization of biological processes in living organisms. The research, done in animal models, will be further evaluated in subsequent studies. Eventually, Witte said, researchers hope to be able to monitor the immune systems of patients with FAC and other PET probes.
“This measurement is not invasive – it involves a simple injection of the probe,” Witte said. “We could do repetitive scans in a single week to monitor immune response.”
The new probe can even be used to monitor how the immune system changes in auto-immune diseases.
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Image caption: A new PET imaging probe illuminates immune cells as it attacks infection within a mouse. Green areas indicate the presence of active immune cells. Credit: UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center