Powerful PET probe shows potential for improving cancer treatment

A newly discovered PET imaging tool that can detect the buildup of an enzyme associated with leukemia and other deadly cancers could identify patients likely to respond well to certain cancer treatments, according to a study published online March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Over the course of the seven-year study, a team of scientists from UCLA developed a powerful PET imaging probe called [18F]CFA, which gave researchers the ability to detect the activity of the enzyme, known as dCK, for the first time ever in human subjects.

"The quality of the images is much better," said lead author Caius Radu, MD, in a university press release. "We are able to clearly see tissues, including tumor tissues, with high dCK activity that we haven't seen before in humans using any of the other probes previously developed for this enzyme."

Imaging the enzyme’s activity is critical in treating certain types of leukemia as well as breast, ovarian, non-small cell lung and pancreatic cancers.

“This enzyme is essential for the therapeutic activity of an entire class of anticancer drugs and even for some antiviral drugs," said Radu. "It can take an inactive drug and activate it. If you trick a cancer cell or virus to activate the drug, it would be toxic for the cancer cell or viral genome.”

The researchers hope to begin clinical trials with the [18F]CFA in the near future and will eventually seek FDA approval.