New PET center combines radiology, psychiatry to combat opioid use disorder

Penn Medicine announced Monday, Aug. 26, that it will open a new center dedicated to the use of neuroimaging to better understand opioid use disorder. The Penn PET Addiction Center of Excellence (PACE) will harness the minds of radiology and psychiatry researchers.

A five-year, $8.9 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will help establish PACE as the first center of its kind to use PET imaging for investigating the neurobiology of those suffering from opioid use disorder and potential new treatment options.

“There is a clear and growing need for improved treatment options for patients with opioid use disorder,” said Henry Kranzler, MD, co-principal investigator of Penn PACE and a professor of psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a news release. “With this new center, researchers from radiology, psychiatry, and addiction science will come together to employ innovative PET approaches that can yield new insights into key neural mechanisms underlying these disorders. Our hope is that these discoveries can lead to new, more precise treatments that save lives.”

To begin their research, investigators will conduct patient studies at Penn’s Center for Studies of Addiction and the Kirkbride Center, the CMCVAMC in Philadelphia and the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven. Initially, researchers will use PET radioligands to focus on opioid receptors in opioid sensitivity, addiction and suicide. Groups will also try to identify a neural signature of genetic differences in patients that may help tailor opioid treatments.

“Penn PACE will take advantage of the unique resources from all angles in this new effort to better understand opioid use disorders and the patients battling them,” Robert H. Mach, PhD, director of the PET Radiochemistry Program at Penn and co-principal investigator of the PACE, said in the same release. “We’re combining all the clinical research and expertise at Penn with the technical prowess of our PET program and the PET neuroimaging program at Yale.”