Molecular imaging front and center for SNM

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In a teleconference hosted by GE Healthcare today, radiology experts discussed the changes and growing importance of molecular imaging. Dr. Martin P. Sandler, MD, the chair of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, and current president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM), said that molecular imaging will be the primary focus of SNM with a five-year, $5 million campaign to raise awareness and education.

A recent summit was designed to bring academics and people in the industry together to “forge some bonds,” said Sandler. Attendees of the event strived to identify the problems that need to be solved to move much of the recent molecular imaging advances from basic research into clinics. There were several breakout groups that discussed regulatory issues, education and how to establish deeper ties between academic and industry.

The first goal of the Society’s campaign is to position the SNM as a central repository for education for molecular imaging, Sandler said. “We are trying to positive the Society of Nuclear medicine as one of the main organizations that can work collaboratively with several other molecular imaging organizations to bridge the gap from basic research to the clinic.”

Bridging the gap may include including a wider range of scientists with more diverse backgrounds, Sandler said. “The key will be to get people very dedicated in a particular area to at least be conversant with people in other areas to work together productively.” That’s a first step and the creation of formal training programs may be discussed in the future.

Meanwhile, using molecular imaging techniques, clinicians have the ability in real time to change a patient’s therapeutic regimen, Sandler said. Physicians typically look for the anatomic changes that occur over long periods of time through a series of MRIs. But, “now we’ve already shown that within a day or two after beginning treatment, molecular imaging can show changes and predict whether the patient will respond to treatment.” Molecular imaging is very helpful in two areas, he said: finding disease at a curable stage, including early metastases and even early enough to prevent the spread of cancer; and selecting appropriate patients for therapeutic trials. “If compounds are going to fail, they will fail early on in the drug development process,” said Sandler. “You can find the right patients to test with these highly-specific drugs by developing imaging probes in parallel, so lots of money can be saved there.” All the major pharmaceutical companies, as well as many of the smaller ones, are developing in house molecular imaging programs to hasten drug developments. “Molecular imaging is making a big impact on medicine,” said Sandler.

At the summit, there was a lot of discussion of the modalities that could be used for molecular imaging,” said Sandler. “That’s what makes molecular imaging so unique. What’s exciting about molecular imaging is that it’s no longer just about radiopharmaceutical-based imaging techniques.”

The backbone of molecular imaging research is working in an interdisciplinary fashion with people from basic biology, chemistry, physics, and other branches, Sandler said. But the challenges include funding and education. The National Institutes of Health has leveled off in its ability to fund the major centers that are springing up at academic teaching institutions. “We need to come up with creative ways to find support,” he said. And a community well-versed in the uses of molecular imaging is important to reap the benefits.

“Molecular imaging is a real galvanizing force. It’s bringing people together in just last 5-20 years for a wide variety of disciplines and that’s what makes it fun and fascinating,” said Sandler. “We are making strides toward making things happen so we will be able to treat patients better. Molecular imaging represents the future of diagnostic imaging and it needs further input from industry.”