Next-generation diagnostics and therapeutics

The molecular imaging and theranostics laboratory is researching next-generation diagnostics and targeted therapeutics for cardiovascular diseases and cancer

Managed by Associate Professor Xiaowei Wang, the laboratory features a wide range of imaging instruments used for functional and molecular imaging, including a VisualSonics high-frequency small animal scanner, a Bruker 9.4T MRI machine (H1 and 19F MRI), an MI Labs MicroCT/optical and a Mediso NanoPET.

“Clinical imaging is often performed after a disease has caused damage to the body,” says Wang. “We use a range of techniques from biology, biotechnology, chemistry and physics to achieve accurate molecular-scale imaging. These technologies could enable us to pin-point cardiovascular disease and cancers in their early stages.”

The laboratory is also home to two machines that generate nanoparticles – which are smaller than a human hair – as drug carriers: an LV1 high-pressure microfluidiser used to produce nanoparticles and a Malvern Nanosizer which measures their size.

“The nanoparticles have to be uniform in size so that we can control where they end up in the body,” explains Wang. “They are loaded with imaging dyes to aid visualisation by imaging technologies, or with drugs and genetic material for therapies. They can be designed to deliver treatment directly to the desired site, which reduces side effects and improves outcomes.”

The instruments also enable research into theranostics, where therapies can be delivered to a patient at the same time as a diagnostic scan.

“We could, for example, use nanoparticles to visualise a blood clot during a scan, but then also trigger the nanoparticles to release their therapeutic agents to immediately break down the clot,” she says.

“These kinds of technologies provide an attractive environment for collaborative research and physician-scientists. Next-generation diagnostics and therapies can be developed and trailed in the same location, which can fast-track the translation of fundamental research to improve health outcomes.”