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Novel Radiotracer Lights up PET Scan for Earlier Disease Detection

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 21 Feb 2024
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Image: The discovery can enable earlier detection and care of cancers, as well as brain and heart conditions (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: The discovery can enable earlier detection and care of cancers, as well as brain and heart conditions (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Most positron emission tomography (PET) imaging systems work by tracing how the body utilizes a radioactive form of glucose for energy. This method is particularly effective for many cancers, as they tend to consume glucose as their primary metabolic fuel, making them easily identifiable on glucose PET scans. However, certain cancers do not primarily use glucose, and some healthy organs like the brain and heart also have high glucose usage, posing challenges in distinguishing some diseases with this imaging technique. Now, scientists have developed a new radiotracer that can map how cells use fructose for energy.

Fructose, commonly referred to as “fruit sugar,” is a different type of metabolic fuel. Found naturally in fruits, honey, and numerous processed foods, fructose is increasingly recognized as a potential fuel source in disease processes. Unlike glucose, fructose is not a standard fuel for the healthy brain and heart, and its use is primarily confined to the liver and kidneys in healthy individuals. The new radiotracer named [18F]4-FDF has been developed by scientists at the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and can identify areas in the body where fructose is being utilized. This can facilitate the early identification of a wide range of diseases, including various cancers and inflammation in the heart and brain.

The innovative [18F]4-FDF compound is a specially engineered form of fructose and incorporates a radioactive fluorine atom at a key chemical position. This modification enables researchers to monitor the metabolism of fructose within the body. By utilizing PET camera imaging, a standard tool in diagnostic imaging, it is possible to view the increased uptake of fructose by malfunctioning organs and tissues, thus enabling the detection of early signs of inflammation. The development of this fructose-based radiotracer marks a significant advancement, offering new possibilities for earlier detection and treatment of cancers and conditions affecting the brain and heart.

“For the first time, we can see where fructose, a common dietary sugar, is used in the body. Outside of the kidneys and the liver, fructose metabolism in any other organs may point to a sinister problem including cancer and inflammation,” said Professor Adam Shuhendler from uOttawa’s Faculty of Science.

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