UC Davis Holds Reimagining Medicine: Breakthroughs in Imaging, from Total PET Scans to Early Diagnosing


By Jolene Darensbourg

DAVIS – A virtual event, titled Reimagining Medicine: Breakthroughs in Imaging, was held by UC Davis on Monday night to unravel all the innovative advances that the university is progressing into, such as the improvements of creating a total-body PET scanner and developing new imaging ideologies for both animals and humans to step into the future of imaging in medicine.

UC Davis researchers are in the process of developing game changers in medical diagnostics with 3-D imagery for total body PET scanners for both humans and animals, which can identify life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, earlier than ever.

At the Imaging Research Center, researchers use brain imaging to investigate the new mechanisms underlying human attention, memory and the pathological processes in clinical disorders that affect cognitive brain systems, focusing on the pathophysiology of disturbances on mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This imagery is also used to understand the disruption in brain developments that follow exposures to risk factors of psychiatric illnesses and the effects of maternal viral hardships during pregnancy.

The overall goal of the research studies is to develop more effective therapies that can improve patients’ chances of recovery.

Dr. Simon Cherry, the co-director at the imaging center, delved into the innovations of PET scans and the study towards inventing a total-body PET scanner, which would be the first-ever imaging system that covers the entire body.

A traditional PET scanner only covers around 20-25 centimeters of the body, but Dr. Cherry and his colleagues questioned that if the sensors were extended to cover the entire body, then they could capture a lot more of the signal, creating total body imaging to collect much higher quality images and a reduction in the amount of radiation use.

The faculty is also researching new and sensitive detection technologies that can be used in the imaging systems, such as the computational research happening to find new ways to reconstruct images to correct patient motion, which can degrade the sharpness of the image.

All of these factors are important components for the research on campus to support the goals in the health of patients.

This new PET scanner would open new possibilities for imaging in medicine.

Dr. Mathieu Spriet, an associate professor of surgical and radioactive sciences at the School of Medicine, explained that there are new innovations in PET scans for animals as well, with his work towards the development of positron emission tomography (PET) on horse limbs.

The compact scanner, which is initially designed for brain scans, is great for horse hooves and when using a bone tracer, there is a three-dimensional rendering of the foot of a horse that shows any abnormal bone turnovers that would be highlighted in yellow.

Originally, a horse would have to undergo anesthesia in order to be put on a surgical table, but now scanners have been designed to be used while the horse is standing and fully awake by having the scanner open up to enclose around the horse hoof instead.

The added bonus comes from the movement detector that senses movement from the horse and immediately stops and opens up to free the horse.

The scanner has been used for racehorses.

If the racehorses seemed to be acting irregular, the scanner would be used by equestrians to find anything abnormal with the animal immediately at the tracks, allowing for the horses to get checked and diagnosed with a cause before anything were to worsen.

Spriet explained that the research lab is trying to recognize the early changes in the bone, and PET scans come into benefiting this because it allows immediate actions that can identify the risks and can put horses in recovery before they injure themselves further.

Dr. Alice Tarantal’s research focuses on the human fetus and infant, studying the early onset of disease both inherited and acquired in prenatal biomarkers, regenerative medicine and gene therapy, along with lifespan health and translational in vivo imaging.

Her studies with nonhuman primates for translational models have been used since they have so many similarities with humans, and this requires specialized facilities and expertise for the focused research areas using imaging techniques and technologies for new human applications.

The research focuses particularly on human diseases across lifespan health.

Gene editing helps the advances to new therapies that range for rare and common genetic diseases to come up with new delivery systems targeting a variety of diseases.

The translational studies with the use of EXPLORER have research in the developmental disorders with the timing of the fetal developmental susceptibility of the maternal immune system and placenta along with any viruses that cause birth defects, like the Zika virus.

Cell and virus trafficking research behind transplanted cells labeled for detection and HIV in tissues and in response to antiretroviral therapies and the distribution of antibodies for new treatments.

Dr. Julie Sutcliffe specializes in biomedical engineering, hematology and oncology, and she is the co-director in the center for dual nomic imaging.

Sutcliffe has researched the development of targeted agents for the detection and treatment of cancers.

The first step in identifying a targeted interest in diseases, such as pancreatic cancer, is to try and find early detection.

Her imagery research has demonstrated the ability to detect subcentimeter primary lesions in breast, colon, lung and pancreatic cancer.

She explained that the imaging agent has been repurposed to evaluate the long-term impact of the effects of COVID-19 to try and understand if the effects would be permanent or eventually fade.

Detecting small lesions in cancer patients means that a theranostic approach can be used to treat the compound by swapping out the radioactive isotope that was used to identify the cancer and substitute it to treat it instead.

These innovative efforts from all the research faculty at UC Davis is making great efforts towards improving the future in medicine through the solutions with total body PET scans, proving that it takes a massive effort on all parts to take these steps towards technological advances.


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