UCSD Healthcare Enters PET Partnership

State-of-the-art Positron Emission Tomography (PET) patient imaging services are now available at the University of California, San Diego Center for Molecular Imaging. This PET center, operated by UCSD Healthcare and Molecular Imaging Corporation (MIC), is located on Sorrento Valley Road. UCSD radiology faculty will provide all clinical patient support services, and MIC will manage the business operations of the center.

“The PET scanner detects regions with heightened metabolic activity characteristic of a malignant tumor with high accuracy and specificity,” said William G. Bradley, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman and Professor of Radiology at UCSD School of Medicine. “PET shows the tumor’s size and location in the body. With state of the art image fusion technology, the PET abnormality can be placed on a high resolution CT or MRI study, allowing a more sensitive and specific diagnosis. In the heart, PET provides the highest degree of accuracy in imaging blood flow to the heart muscle and in determining myocardial viability. The PET scanner is also useful in observing the hypo-metabolic activity in the brain that is indicative of functional disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.”

While most conventional imaging procedures provide anatomical information, PET displays metabolic and functional characteristics of disease. Currently, this is especially useful in both initially diagnosing cancer and, in the later stages of disease, detecting the extent of tumors spread throughout the body.

To detect malignancy, the patient is first injected with a sugar compound, fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), which is tagged with a radioisotope. The supine patient is then moved through the donut-shaped scanner in a process that takes from 30-45 minutes.

Malignant cells utilize sugar more quickly than normal cells, so the scan detects “hot spots” of FDG metabolism, indicating the presence of cancer, including evidence of recurrence or spread that may not be detected using other methods. This is important for staging of cancer, detecting early metastasis, and also for establishing non-invasively whether a lesion appears to be benign or malignant. For example if an X-ray shows a nodule on the lung, a PET scan with a high uptake of FDG in the nodule would be highly suspicious for malignancy.

Carl Hoh, M.D., UCSD Healthcare's Chief of Nuclear Medicine and a pioneer in PET imaging.

“PET is a new way to do clinical imaging,” said Carl Hoh, M.D., UCSD Healthcare’s Chief of Nuclear Medicine and a pioneer in PET imaging. “Since the days of the microscope we’ve focused on visualizing the structure of cells and tissue. With PET, we can not only visualize the biochemistry in tissues, but also quantify the biochemical reaction rates non-invasively, which adds a whole new dimension to the practice of medicine.”

Hoh was a member of the UCLA team that developed the original programs expanding PET application from brain scanning to whole-body imaging. Whole body PET imaging has been approved for the staging of a variety of cancers: Non-small cell lung, Colon, Breast, Esophageal, Melanoma, Head & Neck, Thyroid, and Lymphoma.

He also streamlined the data delivery process so that results are available almost immediately following completion of the scan, instead of several hours later. When UCSD’s PACS is completed by the end of the year, all UCSD physicians will have convenient access to PET studies from any web-linked computer in the system.

Hoh’s own research efforts currently focus on refining PET to monitor the effects of therapy and provide early feedback to the physician regarding whether the treatment is working or not.

“Instead of relying on tumor shrinkage to a gauge response to therapy, we can actually measure the change in the tumor metabolism rate,” he said. “This gives us an early indication of the effect of the drug. If the treatment is effective, there will be a change in the biochemistry of the tumor before we see a change in the size of the tumor.”

This has already proven to be useful in monitoring breast cancer patients; Hoh is working on monitoring other cancers as well.

PET also has application in the diagnosis of heart disease, particularly in detecting the presence of viable tissue following myocardial infarction.

MIC also manages a cyclotron housed in the facility. The cyclotron produces the FDG utilized in PET scanning/molecular imaging. As research progresses and new radioisotopes are developed for use in cardiac, neurological and other applications, they will be produced on site. Some PET isotopes decay very rapidly so having an on-site cyclotron is important.

“The addition of the cyclotron will offer significant benefits for our physician and hospital customer base in Southern California,” said Paul Crowe, President and CEO of MIC.

UCSD and MIC plan to upgrade the current PET scanner to a PET/CT in the near future, and add a MicroPET imaging system for clinical research to serve the needs of San Diego’s research and biotechnology companies.

For information about the facility or to arrange an appointment, call 858-458-9150.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services covers PET scan diagnosis, staging, restaging and/or evaluation in the following disease areas:

  1. Non Small Cell Lung Cancer
  2. Colorectal Cancer
  3. Melanoma
  4. Lymphoma
  5. Head & Neck Cancer
  6. Esophageal Cancer
  7. Thyroid Cancer
  8. Breast Cancers
  9. Refractory Seizures
  10. Myocardial Viability
  11. Myocardial Perfusion

News Media Contact:
Leslie Franz
619-543-6163 lfranz@ucsd.edu

UCSD Health Sciences Communications HealthBeat: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/