Research at UCL is focused on the development of new tracers for both nuclear (PET and SPECT), optical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The emphasis is on multimodal imaging, with two or more imaging techniques used simultaneously to visualize the imaging agent, allowing the limitations of any one imaging technology (e.g. resolution, sensitivity) to be compensated by a second imaging modality. We are developing both small molecule tracers and multimodal nanocomplexes.
We are tuning the in vivo properties of these tracers to allow imaging of pathological processes to underpin biomedical research and enable translational imaging studies in humans. Typically, these tracers are targeted to specific cell types, by means of antibody or peptide conjugation, to allow imaging of cellular and molecular processes in vivo, and incorporate shielding functionalities to allow us to tune the circulation time. Many of these imaging technologies are also designed to be theranostic, carrying one or more therapeutic agents to the target cells, allowing for simultaneous treatment and imaging of disease states. All of this research is carried out in close collaboration with biomedical groups at UCL, KCL and Imperial College, as well as other collaborators within the UK and internationally.
Professor Helen Hailes and Dr Alethea Tabor (UCL Chemistry) are developing new multifunctional nanocomplexes which will simultaneously deliver DNA, siRNA, radionuclides or small molecule therapeutics to cancer cells, and at the same time enable multimodal imaging (MRI, PET, SPECT and optical imaging) of the nanocomplexes and the cells to which they have been delivered. These nanocomplexes are formulated from a “toolbox” of different synthetic lipids and peptides, bearing MRI, optical or photoacoustic imaging functionalities, and with varying degrees of PEG shielding to confer stability on these nanocomplexes in vivo. Each of these “toolbox” components has been designed to be co-formulated with any of the others, with the selected components self-assembling into a nanocomplex with the desired functionalities.
Dr Erik Årstad (UCL Chemistry/Medicine) is developing small molecule tracers for imaging with PET and SPECT, as well as dual optical and nuclear tracers for multiscale imaging with peptides and antibodies. A particular focus is on the development of new chemical approaches for rapid and high-yielding synthesis of imaging agents labelled with Iodine-125 and fluorine-18, and in utilizing novel chemical approaches for the development of radiotracers. The group is currently developing tracers for diagnostic imaging of neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, drug resistance, and to monitor regenerative therapies with stem cells.
Leader: Alethea Tabor