Chemical Breakthrough May Revolutionize PET Scans

A new chemical process developed by a team of Harvard researchers, and collaborators at Massachusetts General Hospital, greatly increases the utility of positron emission tomography (PET) in creating real-time 3-D images of chemical process occurring inside the human body. The work is described in the November 4, 2011 issue of Science. This new work by Dr. Tobias Ritter, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and colleagues holds out the tantalizing possibility of using PET scans to peer into any number of functions inside the bodies of living patients by simplifying the process of creating "tracer" molecules used to create the 3-D images. For example, imagine a pharmaceutical company developing new treatments by studying the way "micro-doses" of drugs behave in the bodies of living humans. Imagine researchers using non-invasive tests to study the efficacy of drugs aimed at combatting disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, and to identify the physiological differences in the brains of patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The process is a never-before-achieved way of chemically transforming fluoride into an intermediate reagent, which can then be used to bind a fluorine isotope to organic molecules, creating the PET tracers. Often used in combination with CT scans, PET imaging works by detecting radiation emitted by tracer atoms, which can be incorporated into compounds used in the body or attached to other molecules. "It's extremely exciting," Dr. Ritter said, of the breakthrough. "A lot of people said we would never achieve this, but this allows us to now make tracers that would have been very challenging using conventional chemistry." The new process builds on Dr.
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