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Full-body PET Scanners to Boost Clinical Research

Clinicians and researchers in the UK are set to be given access to two state-of-the-art total-body positron emission tomography (PET) scanners in a move aimed at enhancing the quality and speed of drug discoveries.

The scanners, with higher sensitivity than existing technology, will be deployed next year to provide new insights into anatomy and improving detection, diagnosis, and treatment of complex, multi-organ diseases.

Access to the platforms is being organised by the National PET Imaging Platform (NPIP) – a partnership between Medicines Discovery Catapult, the Medical Research Council, and Innovate UK.

The two Biograph Vision Quadra PET/CT scanners, supplied by Siemens Healthineers, are capable of capturing detailed images of a patient's whole body in close to real time. 

Improving Diagnosis and Aiding Drug Trials

It is hoped that access to the PET scanners will improve diagnosis of cancer and cardiovascular and neurological diseases and drive innovations in drug discovery.

Announcing details of the deployment, Medicines Discovery Catapault said NPIP’s network would be able to "provide a complete picture of patients and how they respond to novel drugs and treatments" and by connecting with research programmes and trials, "begin to build a rich bank of data that the PET community can access for the benefit of patients".

Dr Juliana Maynard, director of operations and engagement for the NPIP and head of translational imaging at Medicines Discovery Catapult, said the technology "can detect serious diseases with unprecedented speed and accuracy". At the same time, its value for the UK's life sciences sector lay in "providing researchers with access to superior clinical data, not just from their own trials but from every research programme that joins the platform".

Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care and CEO of the National Institute for Health and Care Research, said: "This new platform represents a huge step forward for clinical research, enabling more patients to take part in clinical trials, delivering more scans, and enhancing our understanding of diseases."

One of the scanners will be situated in Scotland, jointly managed by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the second in London under the management of King's College London and Imperial College London.

Both scanners are scheduled to be operational by April 2024.

Potential "Game Changer"

Commenting on the planned deployment, Dr Sam Godfrey, research information lead at Cancer Research UK, said: "This technology could be a game changer for cancer research in understanding the impact of cancer on the whole body. The effects of this disease are not only confined to the location of a tumour. 

"We hope that these total-body PET scanners will give us new insights into how cancer interacts with the body in harmful ways, such as when the disease spreads to other parts of the body, and the whole-body wasting – cachexia – that occurs in advanced cancer patients."

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said PET scanning was "a crucial diagnostic tool, allowing doctors to detect heart conditions by visualising blood flow to the heart" and by allowing researchers and clinicians to build a greater picture of cardiovascular and overall health, "NPIP will power new breakthroughs, improving the detection and treatment of heart conditions".

Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer's Research UK, said she hoped that whole body PET scanners would "support the delivery of dementia clinical trials through increased efficiency and participation" and "embed research in clinical practice across the UK". 

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