The Molecular Imaging Lab based at the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology has developed new imaging tools with the potential to detect drug resistance at early stages of cancer treatment.
The majority of cancer deaths result from ineffective treatment of metastatic disease. “Though there have been recent developments in ground-breaking molecularly-targeted and cell-based therapies, these drugs often fail due to acquired or innate drug resistance,” says Tim Witney, the Lab’s lead, current Wellcome Trust & Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Honorary Senior Lecturer at both King's and UCL. The research conducted by the lab has found a potential solution to this clinical problem through the non-invasive assessment of molecular processes that underpin drug resistance using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging.
In a series of papers published in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research and Chemistry a European Journal, research has shown that a tumour redox environment can be used to predict and monitor response to drug therapy in animal models of ovarian cancer. Using a specific radiotracer ([18F]fluoropropyl)-L-glutamate) as a predictive marker, the lab was able to identify certain antioxidant pathways present in drug resistant tumours and locating the tumours within the animal that respond to therapy and those that do not. A further PET imaging agent was developed to target the enzyme ALDH1A1, a marker of the drug-resistant cancer stem cells thought to be responsible for cancer initiation.
In collaboration with King’s PET Centre and King’s Health Partners, the Molecular Imaging Lab’s larger aim is to design and develop novel molecular PET imaging techniques that can be used to non-invasively predict tumour response and resistance to treatment, with a view to translating these methods into the clinic in the next five years. The lab is led by Dr Tim Witney, supported by Dr Raul Pereira, postdoctoral organic chemist, Dr Renee Flaherty, postdoctoral cancer biologist, Dr Richard Edwards, postdoctoral radiochemist, Hannah Greenwood, a 3rd year PhD student in cancer biology, and Eman Khalil, 1st year PhD student in molecular imaging.