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Cancer, Alzheimer’s and Tumor-Related Therapeutics Now Tracked in Hours


CLEVELAND - If you or someone you love has been through the pain-staking wait to know if a particular therapeutic has worked, you understand months of unpleasant side effects, the anxiety of the level success of the therapeutic and most importantly the hope that the treatment is in-fact the right one and it is localizing in the right area of the body.

For physicians and researchers at the Case Center for Imaging Research, [Cleveland, OH] of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, advances in the field of cellular and molecular imaging and Radiopharmaceutical research may help identify a multitude of physiological changes within hours and days—not months or years, of the treatment’s administration. This Center, under the direction of Jeffery Duerk, Ph.D., and the newly created Radiopharmaceutical Division led by Yanming Wang, Ph.D., will change a variety of disease detection, diagnosis and therapeutic assessment for scores of people currently using some form of imaging as part of their care.

The Case Center for Imaging Research has helped create a ‘hotbed’ for diagnostic imaging in Northeastern Ohio. Once dwarfed by the steel industry, the region is fast becoming known for pioneering advances in cellular and molecular imaging. Something, Duerk says “that will greatly improve the process of advancing human health.” The Center, located on the University Hospitals Case Medical Center campus is finally complete and houses some of the world’s most powerful imaging equipment. The Center will also become a shared resource for the School of Medicines primary affiliate, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, and their clinical affiliates MetroHealth Medical Center and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center; relationships with the Cleveland Clinic exist through the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In 1999, the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals, through the Case Research Institute, submitted a proposal defining their vision for future academic and scientific in imaging on a regional level and the strategic applications needed to implement the process. From 2000-2004, the Case imaging faculty in both the Departments of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering wrote ten grant proposals defining different instruments, scientific projects, and opportunities to expand the impact of imaging at the institutions; of those, eight were funded totaling over $22M. The belief in imaging and these innovative ideas uniting medicine and technology was shared by the Ohio 3rd Frontier Program Wright Center for Innovation grants, Ohio Board of Regents funds, Cancer Center pilot grants, numerous NIH R01-grants and one of NIH’s most prestigious grants (a Small Animal Imaging Resource Program-SAIRP).

From the onset, and specifically throughout 2003-04, Duerk and the other imaging faculty knew the critical component of implementation was still not fulfilled—the human capital investment and intellectual knowledge needed for success—recruiting a top-level radiochemist and a support team of leading MD/Ph.D researchers, post-docs and research staff. This process was unlike any other—the search was such a specialty, that it took nearly three years for a faculty-rich search committee led by Dr’s. Ray Muzic and Zhenghong Lee to find the right person. New initiatives in establishing the Case Medical Center’s Neurological Institute, the Center for Translational Neuroscience and the NIH’s previous “Decade of the Brain”, pushed Case to create the Center’s Radiopharmaceutical Division and the challenge was finding someone who not only knew the intricacies of radiochemistry, but the multidisciplinary talent to lead the many aspects of Radiopharmaceutical research synergistically with the emerging institutes and Centers.

As the Imaging Center launched a nationwide call for applicants, twenty-plus candidates applied, but one stood out. Yanming Wang, an innovative chemist with a Ph.D., from the Swiss Institute of Technology, post doctoral research from Duke University, a former faculty instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and most recently, with the University of Illinois.

It is Yanming’s exceptionally unique training that allows him to make molecules to not only probe, but also look at new patient applications as well. His research spans opportunities in Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia, and will each require different imaging agents for potentially many different modalities. His basic science education allows him to work both sides of the process – bench to bedside or ‘translational’ as they say.

The importance of high-level imaging in neuroscience encompasses a multitude of modalities. For Alzheimer’s disease, the Division is developing image markers to fine-tune the paths indicating neuron damage to the brain at the early stage of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Currently, the brain analysis can only be completed at the time of death. Other tumor-related and cancer conditions require months of drug treatments to assess whether not only “if” the drug has worked, but to what degree effectiveness it has worked. At times, the patient finds the drug has not worked and needs to begin another different type of drug treatment, prolonging the afflicted state. At the Case Center for Imaging Research, “we have the potential to identify molecular changes within hours—this is both quantitative and efficient”, said Dr. Yanming Wang, Ph.D. “Our ability to label drugs and molecules with radioactivity that we can then image will allow us to not only develop compounds that allow us to perform our diagnoses better, but also to monitor and adjust current therapeutics on a patient-by-patient basis, such as in prostate cancer treatment”, Wang added. Previously, the only imaging that has been available is ultrasound, MRI and SPECT [single photon emission computed tomography].

The Case Center for Imaging Research, while a leader in the region for biomedical research, also contributes to the competitive economic environment of the healthcare industry. With a successful imaging center, the natural progression is to attract a high-caliber talent pool for advanced research and pharmaceutical firms to develop therapies. Only a handful of other academic medical institutions are our neighbors in this field; Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Univ. of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon. “The impact resonates from the core, from our facility. We look forward to the ground-breaking discoveries made at the Center and the global contribution to improving quality of life for everyone—whether in our Cleveland market or the other side of the world. It is a driving force in the future of healthcare,” said Duerk.


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