Novel imaging agent helps radiologists visualize inflammation via PET scan

Physicians do not currently have a sound method of zeroing in and visualizing inflammation, but a novel imaging agent may upend that reality.

Researchers with Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis have created an agent called Galuminox that helps to illuminate such swelling. It’s still in the experimental phase but has already helped scientists view this clinical concern in mice with acute lung injury via PET scan.

Those involved believe the agent could other myriad uses with other conditions where inflammation is a concern, including pulmonary toxicity stemming from chemotherapy.

“Doctors don't have a good way to image inflammation at earliest stages, which can hamper the diagnosis and treatment of disease. We focused on lung injury in this paper, but in principle, this tracer could be applied to other conditions where you have inflammation…" senior author Vijay Sharma, PhD, a professor at the university's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, said in a statement. "If we had approval today, this tracer could even be used for COVID-19.”

Galuminox is a chemical compound that helps detect reactive oxygen species and is linked to the radioactive metal gallium-68. Sharma and colleagues tested out the drug modeled acute respiratory distress syndrome in mice and then scanned them to reveal concentrations in the lungs. They’re now exploring whether the agent might be useful in studying diseases characterized by chronic inflammation, including transplant failure.

“We think that a lot of the irreversible changes in the lungs occur before the patient has symptoms. By the time they start having difficulty breathing, it may be too late for effective treatment. If we could detect signs of inflammation early, we might be able to intervene at an earlier stage and extend the life span of the transplant,” co-author Andrew Gelman, PhD, a professor of surgery, said in the statement.

You can read more about their work in the journal Redox Biology here.