PET imaging

PET neuroimaging, a cross-cutting theme

The MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board has been leading an initiative to facilitate UK positron emission tomography (PET) imaging research in the central nervous system. Radioligand PET is an essential tool in translational medicine and for aspects of new drug development, particularly drugs for neurological and psychiatric indications.

The MRC reviewed the position of PET Imaging in the medical research landscape in 2017, and the report was published on our website (PDF, 1.17MB)

Along the translational medicine developmental pathway, PET radiotracers are used for diagnosis, as a tool for drug development and to gain a better understanding of disease biology. The main uses are:

  • Dose-finding for new agents
  • Definition of populations in terms of brain abnormalities, especially receptors and enzymes
  • As a surrogate marker for treatment effects
  • Proof of concept studies in normal volunteers or patient populations

The first ever community workshop of neuroscientists using PET imaging (PDF, 157KB) was held by the board in May 2008. The participants had never previously met as a group. Some findings of the workshop were specific to neurosciences while other findings have broader relevance for PET research in other scientific areas: primarily cancer but also cardiovascular disease.

Broadly speaking, UK strengths include:

  • World class PET expertise
  • Skill/knowledge base in the UK for world-class translational research in neurosciences
  • Strong NHS/academic partnerships and possibilities for collaboration with pharma
  • Emerging multi-centre networks for all aspects of PET

The perceived challenges for the UK are:

  • Methodology needed for efficient screening of candidate compounds and better access to libraries
  • Training, recruitment and retention of radiochemists, chemists, modellers, cyclotron engineers and people with Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) / Quality Assurance (QA) expertise
  • Limited number of GMP facilities and need for routine availability of ligands for multi-centre trials.

For PET neuroscience imaging, an important distinguishing feature is that the image is less important than the ability to obtain quantitative pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data. In oncology, PET primarily supplies the image of the tumour required for diagnosis and radiochemistry.

Building capacity

In 2015, 6 new PET/MR scanners were funded for universities across the UK: Imperial, Cambridge, Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  This infrastructure marks a significant increase in capacity for PET research in the UK and will foster increased networking in PET technology.

Regulatory issues

The MRC worked with partners from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the National Cancer Research Institute to provide regulatory advice and a supportive environment for PET based research in UK. As a result of these discussions, a workshop for PET imaging researchers was held in September 2010 at MRC. UK PET researchers from the neurosciences, cardiovascular sciences and cancer fields were involved. Papers produced for this meeting included a decision tree (PDF, 17KB) as to whether a clinical trial authorisation is required and some examples of study scenarios (PDF, 732KB). These documents are also available on the NCRI-PET Research Network website.

Industry issues

To advance translational research, researchers must seek ways to strengthen industry-academic collaboration in the context of international competition.

In essence, the MRC is seeking to facilitate better interaction between industry and academia, and expand the use of PET technology throughout the UK. The goal is to make UK PET imaging research more internationally competitive. 

For further information or queries contact Richard Evans.