The introduction of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging (MI) technologies undeniably brought even more value to non-invasive medical imaging techniques. These technologies offer the ability to identify and track cellular changes to the structures identified with anatomical imaging, giving clinicians the additional capacity to detect early or subtle changes within those structures or lesions. Understanding the molecular level of a given structural abnormality enables more informed diagnoses and patient treatment paths, including effectively tracking disease progression over time.
Additionally, a surge of investment and discovery has enriched the available selection of novel and more targeted radiotracers. The entire molecular imaging industry, from imaging manufacturers to radiopharmaceutical researchers is committed to finding new methods of identifying disease and targeted therapies. This commitment is to the extent that the combination of technological developments and biological insights has propelled cancer research and treatment into the molecular domain[i].
“There’s really a feeling of energy and excitement building around the potential for molecular imaging to really enable a new level of care,” explained Jamie McCoy, General Manager, Global PET/CT at GE Healthcare. “And that potential has always been there with functional imaging itself, but with all the new radiopharmaceuticals, the new therapies on the horizon, new technologies, and the incorporation of artificial intelligence, a lot of things are already happening, and more is right around the corner.”
Managing the complexities of MI for intelligently efficient diagnostics and care
Connecting the various elements of MI to enable a seamless flow of data and highly personalized care is one of the challenges faced by providers in today’s healthcare environment. Many different vendors and healthcare providers have critical roles along the complex steps of the molecular medicine pathway in terms of the production and distribution of imaging tracers, to workflow and patient care. MI operations include many steps from the scheduling and preparation of patient doses to the image acquisition workflow and dosimetry solutions.
“The future in MI is becoming less and less about individual point solutions or individual features or technical specifications of devices,” McCoy said. “It’s going to be less about siloed data or discussions that may be happening today. And it’s really going to become more about how to connect all of these components together in an optimized and streamlined way, from discovery to diagnosis, and through treatment.”
As such, GE Healthcare is taking a holistic approach, beginning with its Pharmaceutical Diagnostics (PDx) division. That team works collaboratively with the molecular imaging equipment team to understand the greatest clinical challenges associated with developing new tracers for physicians to use. Moving from that discovery to the diagnostic phase, GE Healthcare evaluates the time, cost and variability that exists within molecular imaging departments. These workflow inefficiency challenges have risen to the top. And finally, in the treatment stage, new applications, such as theranostics are emerging, as well as new collaboration tools that can help to better connect care teams.
“The foundation of our vision at GE Healthcare,” McCoy noted, “really starts with our customers. We’ve spent a lot of time talking with molecular imaging departments to better understand and broaden our perspective on where some of those kinds of critical challenges and opportunities lie and I believe our approach will help to ensure a great next decade of enhanced patient care with molecular imaging.”
An MI success story: Precision diagnostics for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer worldwide[ii]. It is estimated that there will be more than 248,000 new cases of prostate cancer and an estimated 34,130 deaths from this disease in the US in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society[iii]. Molecular imaging is impacting prostate cancer care through many recent developments like new research and approvals for prostate specific imaging tracers and targeted therapies. While computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and traditional nuclear medicine (NM) bone scintigraphy are conventional methods commonly used to image patients with prostate cancer, these approaches can be limited in detecting lesions.
Most of the approved biomarkers for prostate cancer imaging are only approved for use in patients with suspected cancer recurrence. One new biomarker, however, gallium-68 PSMA-11 is approved in the U.S. for patients with suspected prostate cancer metastasis or for patients with suspected prostate cancer recurrence based on elevated serum prostate-specific antigen levels[iv].
“Prostate cancer is a great example of a clinical care pathway that’s been impacted by the advances in molecular imaging,” said McCoy. “It’s a particular area that has a number of developments in process right now. And I believe there will continue to be additional product innovations along the prostate care pathway as well as new tracers that are emerging. We see a future in our cyclotron business where we can produce gallium-68 at one tenth of the cost of today’s generator solutions and there are a number of digital solutions, both on the PET/CT and the SPECT/CT side from a hardware as well as a software perspective, that are going to be great breakthrough technologies and have an impact on the prostate cancer pathway.”
View the ‘The New Future of Molecular Imaging’ fireside conversation with Jamie McCoy, and Chris Heble, Chief Marketing Officer for Molecular Imaging, GE Healthcare. (Access ‘fireside chats’ under the ‘What’s new’ section, once you visit the GE Healthcare Experience)
For more on the latest GE Healthcare MI Solutions, visit Molecular Imaging | GE Healthcare.
[i] Dzik-Jurasz AS. Molecular imaging in oncology. Cancer Imaging. 2004;4(2):162-173. Published 2004 Oct 21. doi:10.1102/1470-7330.2004.0060