January 1, 1970 (Vol. , No. )

John Sterling Editor in Chief Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

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.