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Profs Advance 3D Imaging

By Akua F. Abu, Crimson Staff Writer

A team of Harvard researchers led by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Tobias Ritter developed a new chemical method that refines the capabilities of 3D internal bodily imaging.

The new method expands on the scope of current imaging technology by allowing greater access to the radioactive positron-emitting “tracer” molecules used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a form of nuclear imaging. Under conventional methods, the making of the bonds within the common tracer molecules as well as the tagging and labeling of these molecules have typically presented a challenge.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was impossible but it was definitely challenging to make these bonds with conventional fluorination methods, especially due to the reactivity of the fluoride anions,” Ritter said.

The chemical development, which has been going on for almost five years, was done at Ritter’s Lab at Harvard. Work relating to the radiochemistry and nuclear imaging was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in conjunction with Professor Jacob M. Hooker, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

“What’s distinctive about this work is the role of the new method as an enabling technology,” Hooker said, “It will be able to enable many more compounds to be labeled with a positron-emitting isotope.”

The new method overall will increase access to PET radiotracers, which could lead to the development of new molecules for use in a variety of medical applications. In particular, these developments could assist in the evaluation of pharmaceutical candidates to accelerate drug development.

The research team hopes to increase the accessibility of the new method to both research institutions, as well as patients.

“This method is relatively easy but not necessarily practical. In the next iteration, we have to make it simpler so users aren’t intimidated by it,” Hooker said.

The team also plans to identify tracer molecules that could make a difference in human PET Imaging, possibly involving imaging techniques regarding pathways in the brain.

“Having access to this technology will help us identify specific problems that we can tackle in the future,” Ritter said.

—Staff writer Akua F. Abu can be reached at

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