UW Today

December 1, 2011

Researchers pioneer molecular imaging agents to individualize cancer therapy

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

UW Medicine researchers Kenneth Krohn and Janet Eary have received a $7 million five-year renewal grant award from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute to continue research in molecular imaging of cancer and its response to therapy. This new award is funded through 2016. It is one of the longest running funded research projects of its kind and includes investigators at the UW and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

A diagnostic image of the brain obtained with positron emission tomography.

A diagnostic image of the brain obtained with positron emission tomography.

“Medical imaging has been used for more than a century and this information has proven invaluable to doctors looking for early-stage occult disease or even looking for the spread of more advanced disease,” said Krohn, co-principal investigator, and a UW professor of radiology and radiation oncology.  “The positron emission tomography (PET) agents we have developed are not intended for detection of cancer, but rather for characterization of the disease in an individual patient.”

“Our ability to use PET imaging to identify patients with tumors at high risk for treatment failure, those who are experiencing treatment failure, and those individuals for whom an ideal targeted therapy will have an immediate and direct positive clinical impact,”  said Eary, co-principal investigator in the study and a UW professor of nuclear medicine. “Most of the imaging agents we have pioneered are now used around the world and are involved in numerous multi-center clinical trials.”

Other researchers on the project are Jeanne Link, a UW associate professor of nuclear medicine, and David Mankoff, a UW professor of radiology. By showing the chemical reactions actually taking place inside a persons body, nuclear medicine imaging has the benefit of characterizing the cancer disease within an individual patient.   At the very heart of this research project is the collaborative teamwork that takes place between the laboratory scientists and the clinicians.

The UW PET Cancer Group has been actively investigating new imaging agents for more than 20 years.  Their work encompasses development of imaging agents, pre-clinical models, and translation to early phase clinical trials.  The group consists of radiochemists, clinical imaging specialists, imaging physicists and image analyses experts who interact in a multidisciplinary environment.