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Tracing biological pathways
Date:11/4/2011

A new chemical process developed by a team of Harvard researchers greatly increases the utility of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in creating real-time 3-D images of chemical process occurring inside the human body.

This new work by Tobias Ritter, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and colleagues holds out the tantalizing possibility of using PET scans to peer into any number of functions inside the bodies of living patients by simplifying the process of creating "tracer" molecules used to create the 3-D images.

For example, imagine a pharmaceutical company developing new treatments by studying the way "micro-doses" of drugs behave in the bodies of living humans. Imagine researchers using non-invasive tests to study the efficacy of drugs aimed at combatting disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, and identify the physiological differences in the brains of patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

As described in the Nov. 4 issue of Science, the process is a never-before-achieved way of chemically transforming fluoride into an intermediate reagent, which can then be used to bind a fluorine isotope to organic molecules, creating the PET tracers. Often used in combination with CT scans, PET imaging works by detecting radiation emitted by tracer atoms, which can be incorporated into compounds used in the body or attached to other molecules.

"It's extremely exciting," Ritter said, of the breakthrough. "A lot of people said we would never achieve this, but this allows us to now make tracers that would have been very challenging using conventional chemistry."

The new process builds on Ritter's earlier fluorination work, which reduced the risk of damage to the original molecules by reducing the amount of energy needed to create fluorinated compounds, and involved the development of a unique, "late-stage" process that allowed fluorination to take place at the end of a compo
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Contact: Peter Reuell
preuell@fas.harvard.edu
617-496-8070

Source:Eurekalert

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