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GEN’s editorial staff interviews life science academic and biotech industry leaders on important research, technology, and trends. These podcasts will keep you informed with all the important details you need.

Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have modified a common chemotherapy drug to create a new probe for positron emission tomography (PET), an advance that will allow them to model and measure the immune system in action and monitor its response to new therapies.

The discovery, published June 8 in the early online edition of Nature Medicine, enables scientists to monitor the immune system three-dimensionally - at the whole-body level - as it tries to fight some cancers, or when it goes awry, as it does in autoimmune diseases.

The scientists created a small molecule, called FAC, by slightly altering the molecular structure of one of the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs, gemcitabine. They then added a radiolabel so the cells that take in the probe can be seen during PET scanning.

During this week's GEN podcast, Dr. Owen Witte, the study's senior author, provides additional details about the probe and its capabilities. He talks about how the probe actually functions and describes its advantages compared to other techniques that are used to monitor the immune system.

Dr. Witte also explains the types of work carried out with the probe in animal research and discusses plans for eventually using the technology in studies with humans.
Owen Witte, M.D. has made significant contributions to the understanding of human leukemias, immune disorders, and epithelial cancer stem cells. His work includes the discovery of tyrosine kinase activity for the ABL gene and the demonstration of the BCR-ABL oncoproteins in human leukemias, leading to the development of kinase targeted therapy as an effective treatment for these leukemias and other cancers. His work also lead to the co-discovery of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase which is required for normal B-lymphocyte development, and when mutated leads to X-linked agammagloblulinemia, a form of immune deficiency. Recent work has concentrated on defining the stem cells for epithelial cancers of the prostate and other organ sites to help define new types of therapy for these diseases. Dr. Witte is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine. He has received recognition for his research including the Milken Foundation Award, the Rosenthal Award of the American Association for Cancer Research, the Dameshek Prize of the American Society of Hematology, the Alpert Foundation Prize, and The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s de Villiers International Achievement Award. Dr. Witte is active with advisory boards including the Pew Scholars in Biomedical Science, The Damon Runyon Scholars Board, Lasker Prize Award Jury.

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