Revolutionizing how IBD is diagnosed: Karmanos researchers contribute to new use of PET imaging

Investigators want to look further into whether this technique can help detect certain gastrointestinal cancers

Researchers have discovered they can image inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. Their findings, titled “Detection of IL12/23p40 via PET visualizes inflammatory bowels disease,” were published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine in July 2023.

IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions increase a patient’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. The current standard of detecting IBD is endoscopy, however, molecular changes occur that are not captured when conducting this procedure. So, investigators at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University (WSU), and Corewell Health Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, set out to develop a new diagnostic agent using positron emission tomography imaging to track inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract.

“Endoscopy with biopsy is limited only to segments of the bowel. It cannot probe through the whole gastrointestinal tract, which is a main limitation of this procedure,” explained Nerissa Viola, Ph.D., leader of the Molecular Imaging Research Program at Karmanos and associate professor at WSU School of Medicine. “By administering a PET agent like this, inflammation is visualized throughout the whole alimentary tract, essentially generating an abdominal map. Moreover, PET imaging eliminates the need for extensive bowel cleansing preparations that most patients, especially children, do not tolerate well.”

When PET scans are performed, a small amount of radioactive material is injected into the body’s bloodstream and circulates until it finds its target that is housed within the disease site. According to Dr. Viola, this new way of detecting IBD can potentially revolutionize how we diagnose these diseases. The abdominal map she refers to can show where the inflammation is in the gastrointestinal tract without having a patient prepare for an invasive diagnostic procedure.

The team is now looking into the possibility of using this diagnostic agent to further track chronic inflammation and monitor the development of IBD into colorectal cancer.

“We still are a long way from using PET as a tool for diagnosis in the case of IBD, but these studies bring us one step closer toward translation and lays down the roadmap toward potentially transforming standard of care,” Dr. Viola concluded.

Co-authors of this study include Najeeb Al-Hallak, M.D., MS, medical oncologist, member of the Gastrointestinal and Neuroendocrine Oncology Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) and the Molecular Therapeutics Research Program at Karmanos; Bashar Mohamad, M.D., gastroenterologist and member of the Gastrointestinal and Neuroendocrine Oncology MDT; Kang Chen, Ph.D., member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment Research Program; Farzaneh Rezazadeh, Ph.D., former Karmanos research fellow; and Nicholas Ramos and Allen-Dexter Saliganan, both research assistants. Wendy Wiesend, M.D., Beaumont Royal Oak, also contributed to the study.

To read the study, click here.