What is Molecular Imaging ?

Thanks KMThe key notion underlying molecular medicine is that diseases have their origin in processes occurring at the molecular and cellular level. Each of us has a unique genetic profile that is reflected through the expression of our genes to the extent that every one of us is visibly and biochemically different. It is how, when and why the genes in our chromosomes are switched on and off, the process known as gene expression, that makes us what we are. And diseases are often associated with changes in the gene expression levels. Our gene expression, and the myriad of different molecular reactions that it triggers in our bodies, now lies at the heart of a paradigm shift that is taking place in the way we diagnose and treat disease, because differences in our genes can dramatically change the way our bodies react to certain drugs. In extreme cases, similar dosages of a drug that are highly effective in one patient can be lethal to another. In other words, it is so personalized that it can be a matter of life or death, and it is leading to a whole new field of medicine known as pharmacogenomics, the tailoring of drug therapies to specific genotypes in order to maximize their efficacy and reduce their side effects. It is the biggest change in medicine for the last few thousand years and it is being made possible by developments in molecular medicine.

Pharmacogenomics relies on three different capabilities. First, you can accurately diagnose disease, preferably in its very early stages so that very small doses of highly targeted drugs can be used to cure it before the patient begins to suffer symptoms. Second, you can identify those characteristics of the patient’s genotype that affect the patient’s drug response. And third, you can monitor the patient’s response to therapy in real time, so that you can deliver maximum efficacy with minimum side effects. All three of these capabilities lie within the realm of molecular medicine.

Molecular imaging

Molecular imaging is one of the pillars of molecular medicine. It involves the development and commercialization of in-vivo bio-marker assays carried out in hospitals using various types of scanning equipment such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), Magnetic Resonance (MR), Ultrasound and Optical scanners. The primary objective of this development work is to combine functional imaging with structural imaging so that specific in-vivo molecular processes can be identified and spatially pinpointed, typically through the use of imaging contrast agents that bind to specific biological proteins.

PIED Pet ScanMolecular imaging will therefore fulfill both a diagnostic role and treatment role by allowing doctors to pinpoint disease sites and track the progress of drug therapies. The same contrast agents used to highlight disease sites may even be able to carry drug payloads that can be selectively unleashed precisely where they are needed.

By providing healthcare organizations with an efficient means of identifying and treating disease before patients even begin to suffer symptoms, molecular medicine has the potential to massively reduce the costs associated with late-stage intervention and after-care.