Positron emission tomography (PET) is a non-invasive imaging technique used to detect tumours and provide information about a patient’s response to treatment. PET generates a 3D image of the inside of a patient’s body and highlights the location of tumors through detection of a radiotracer administered before generating the image. One of the most common forms of radiotracers are small, drug-like molecules containing a radioisotope that bind to or accumulate in cancer cells, precisely locating tumours.
While many radioisotopes can be used for PET imaging, [18F] is arguably the most desirable due to its high positron output, small atomic size, metabolic stability and worldwide network of production facilities. Despite these advantages, the synthesis of [18F] radiotracers presents many challenges that have limited the scope of radiotracers available for oncological PET imaging. Thus, the majority of oncological PET imaging relies on a single radiotracer: [18F]-FDG, a sugar analogue that preferentially accumulates in cells that have increased metabolism (i.e., cancer cells).
Unfortunately, [18F]-FDG is not cancer-specific and also tends to bind to other tissues such as brain and bladder, and at sites of inflammation, limiting its utility for detecting tumors in those areas. In recent years there has been considerable interest in identifying complementary radiotracers to FDG, and much attention has focused on the synthesis of 18F-labelled amino acids, which also accumulate in rapidly dividing cancer cells. Dr. Britton’s lab has recently discovered a method for incorporating the [18F] radioisotope into complex drug precursors without the need for elaborate precursor synthesis.
Dr. Britton aims to:
In addition to these research aims, Dr. Britton has filed a provisional patent application and will work with the SFU Innovation Office to identify an industrial partner for this new technology. These new amino acid radiotracers could have a profound impact on the early detection of cancer and positively impact the lives of many British Columbians.