Ritter's process begins with fluoride, which is chemically altered to create an intermediate molecule, called an "electrophilic fluorination reagent." Armed with that reagent, and using the late-stage fluorination process developed in Ritter's lab, his team is then able to create fluorinated molecules for use in PET imaging.
The breakthrough opens the door to pharmaceutical companies using the relatively simple, non-invasive scans to track how "micro-doses" of drugs behave in living subjects, with the potential payoff coming in vastly more efficient and cheaper drug development.
"One of the most immediate applications of this is in using molecular imaging to give us an understanding of the bio-distribution of a drug," Ritter said. "If a pharmaceutical company is developing a drug to treat schizophrenia, they could use this test to see if it enters the brain. If early tests show it doesn't, they would be able to kill the project before spending a great deal of time and money on it."
The technique could even be used to unlock the physical traits of disorders that until now have been limited to phenomenological descriptions. Using biomarkers related to specific disorders, researchers could use fluorination to identify biological differences between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and use that information to develop treatments for both.
"I don't know if we're ever going to reach that point," Ritter said. "But that's what this project may be able to deliver in the long term. The way my group works we want to solve big problems, and we're willing to sacrifice to get there. This is one problem that is worth a little bit of sweat."
|Contact: Peter Reuell|