Experts in the field of molecular imaging gathered recently to consider issues such as training of new personnel, standardization and the potential of molecular imaging for the upcoming summit, “Shaping the Future,” in Key Biscayne, Florida. Their findings on molecular imaging are scheduled to be presented in the December issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, according to the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM; Reston, Virginia), which publishes the journal.

GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) sponsored its own meeting of the minds on the subject in a teleconference on Monday — the minds being those of the GE’s own Global Molecular Imaging Leader, Jean-Luc Vanderheyden, PhD; Martin Sandler, MD, current president of SNM; and Martin Pomper, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiology, pharmacology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center (Baltimore) and an associate director of the Molecular Imaging Center at the Johns Hopkins MedicalMedical Institutions .

Sandler told teleconference listeners that SNM has been having trouble “getting its arms around” molecular imaging for some time, as have many of that organization’s colleagues.

Referring to a board meeting of that organization “some time ago,” he said, “we decided that the focus of nuclear medicine would be in molecular imaging.” And while he said molecular imaging is an “ill-defined area,” it is “going to have a huge, enormous impact on healthcare as we go forward.”

Sandler said that the whole approach toward molecular medicine will fall into a few broad categories, including diagnosis and measuring the response of therapeutic interventions.

Today, he said, nuclear medicine is “very dependent on anatomical imaging,” but there are “many suggestions and there’s a lot of evidence” that nuclear medicine will be moving more to a “molecular-based mode of medicine,” such as in coronary disease. However, he said the anatomical basis of disease will help physicians find where the molecular activity is taking place.

Sandler pointed out that positron emission tomography (PET) is “one of the first clinical methodologies that have allowed us to actually go inside the cell, look at the metabolic process inside the cell and measure it.”

But Pomper said that other modalities are playing an increasingly important role, not only in molecular imaging research but also in translational research, such as optical imaging, MRI and ultrasound. But the emphasis in nuclear medicine is still on the radiopharmaceutical tracers, which has at least a little something to do with “milder” regulatory issues in the “radiopharmaceutical realm,” he said.

“Nevertheless, there are a wide variety of new optical probes, marker probes, activatable probes that are beginning to see their way toward clinical use,” Pomper said, adding that it is “a very important growth area.”

Vanderheyden posed a question as to whether a “new type of scientist” needs to be trained, as compared to the biologists, chemists and radiologists that are currently being developed.

“That’s a good question,” Pomper said, “and I think we’re beginning to see that transition occur already.”

Pomper said that “most of the post-docs” that he works with “are much more broadly trained than I ever was,” adding that most of those focusing on molecular imaging sort of “select themselves” as being interested in this field.

He said that there hasn’t really been any formalized training program established in this area.

“I think that the goal would be to get people who are very dedicated in a particular area — whether it’s chemistry, biochemistry, physics — to at least be conversant with those in the other areas so they can work together productively toward molecular imaging research, which is inherently extremely multidisciplinary.”

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