Thursday, January 3, 2008

Seeing inside the body

Happy New Year everyone!

After the Xmas delay, here I am again. I’ll start 2008 with some beautiful scientific pictures.

Here’s an image taken by the guys at the Institute of Advanced Technology (IAT), located in the basement of the PRBB. It is a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) of human brains. PET is an imaging technique which allows the measurement of cellular and molecular processes in vivo. It allows the detection of pathological anomalies before they become anatomical lesions, facilitating a real translational research.

The exploration is done with a very small amount – below any toxic threshold - of a radioactive element, an isotope which emits positrons and which is used to label a biological molecule or a new drug. When these have been labelled they are called radiotracers, of which nowadays there are more than 100. FDG-18 (a glucose analogue) is the most widely-used one in neurology, psychiatry and cardiology, and even more in cancer studies. This is because PET uses a fundamental characteristic of malign cells: the fact that they grow much faster then normal cells and so they need more glucose.

Once injected intravenously, the radiotracer continues its normal metabolic route, emitting a luminous signal which is detected by a PET camera. In the case of a disease, this will allow us to localise the focus of abnormal growth. If we are studying new drugs, we will be able to see where they accumulate, how and when they are eliminated, and to know what are the most appropriate doses. This way we can develop more efficient and secure drugs in less time and with less money. Also, PET is 100% non-invasive and it allows one to do repetitive explorations.

The IAT offers PET analyses in humans and micro-PET analyses in mice to all the centres at the PRBB and to pharmaceutical companies.

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