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Under the hood of total body PET with its developers

by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | June 15, 2021
Molecular Imaging
Ramsey Badawi and Simon Cherry
From the June 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Back in 2017, HealthCare Business News spoke to Ramsey Badawi and Simon Cherry about the total body PET scanner they were developing at UC Davis. As we described it at the time, it was a “research project that could one day revolutionize molecular imaging.”

With the annual SNMMI meeting right around the corner, we decided to check back in with them to see what the last few years have been like, and what’s on the horizon.

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HCB News: A lot has happened since we first spoke to both of you in 2017 about your total body PET scanning project. For one thing, the scanner is FDA cleared and is being manufactured by United Imaging. What has that journey been like on a personal level?
Ramsey Badawi and Simon Cherry: It’s been incredibly busy! 2018 and the first part of 2019 were spent designing and planning for the new EXPLORER Molecular Imaging Center (EMIC), which now houses the scanner. And since June 2019, when we started scanning, we have had a huge amount of work to do in setting up both the clinical and research services that EMIC provides. Some of the high points were when we saw the very first human subject scan from the first prototype, and then again when we saw the images from the first human subject acquired at UC Davis. These were career-defining moments.

HCB News: Can you tell us about some of the research being done with the scanner that you're most excited about?
RB & SC: There is some very exciting work being done on imaging CD8 positive T-cells in COVID-19 patients. We have also seen some game-changing results when using Zr89 immunoPET to image HIV distribution with our collaborators at UCSF. While it is still early days on this project, the images are so dramatically superior to what is possible on conventional PET that we can’t help but feel that the power of these kinds of studies will be significantly improved.

We also have a program using TB-PET to image systemic disease burden in arthritis. We can get fantastic high-resolution images of inflammatory activity in joints and tendons throughout the body, and with much lower doses to the subjects.

We also have a lot of methodological research underway using deep-learning method — for example, to detect and correct for motion during a scan and to improve image quality at low doses.

HCB News: Have any indications or diagnostic use cases emerged where the whole body scanner is particularly useful?
RB & SC:Pediatric imaging is an obvious area. If the patient can’t lie still for the time normally needed for a conventional PET scan, we can still get great images. For adults, our radiologists tell us that, particularly in the liver, the increased image quality gives them much more confidence in the findings, which can reduce the need for further imaging studies with MR. Due to the improved spatial resolution and signal collection efficiency, it is also much easier to assess small lung nodules.

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