Technology & innovation

Marchmont’s focus on innovation: Siberian State’s new PET technology

24 Jun '11
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Today we’ll take a closer look at Tomsk-based Siberian State Medical University and its new PET (positron emission tomography) technology that developers say will enable physicians to diagnose oncologic, cardiovascular and other serious diseases with an unparalleled level of accuracy. With a small $78.5k government grant the university has reportedly laid the foundation for the creation of radio (y-emitting) tracers based on polyvalent iodine—an original way of dramatically improving PET diagnostics. Although widely used throughout the West, PET in Russia is still rare. Armed with its new technology and government support, the university hopes the RF will boost the number of PET centers in this country from today’s seven to 140.

Polyvalent iodine focused research at Siberian State Medical University (SSMU) gained momentum in 2009 when it got institutional support and a $78.5k grant. That helped the university hire prominent researchers, including Mekhman Yusubov, head of SSMU’s Chemistry Chair, and Viktor Zhdankin from University of Minnesota Duluth (US), who led the effort.

Now the team is reportedly formalizing its IP rights for the technology and seeking an additional investment of $1.8m to fine-tune the innovation and prepare it for commercialization.

How it works

A y-emitting tracer is a radioactive isotope. The compound, or substance, used with a tracer is referred to as radio-labeled and can be tracked in the human body. This enables physicians to study the speed and nature of chemical processes in cells or tissue (like metabolism or distribution). Iodine is one of the substances commonly used in the methodology.

The actual process works by selectively introducing fluorine and iodine atoms into bio-active compounds. According to Mr. Yusubov, the compounds used to make radiopharmaceuticals are designed for a wide range of applications, primarily for positron emission tomography (PET).

PET uses a special camera to track the movement of an IV-injected radio tracer by detecting positively charged particles (positrons) and translating recordings into a computer-based image. The resulting PET scans are a valuable asset in assessing early-stage cancer, checking blood flow and generally examining the way organs work.

Up to 94% precision

The developers believe the use of the Siberian technique in PET will bring new hope to oncology patients because it can trace “early stage malignant tumors in a human body with up to 94% accuracy.”

Mr. Yusubov emphasized that positron emission tomograms using Tomsk’s innovative y-emitting tracers also “give clearer pictures of neoplastic tissue compared to computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”.

2,000 PET centers in the U.S.—and just seven in the RF

In spite of its obvious advantages, PET is still a luxury that patients in most Russian regions can’t afford.

The developed world employs a reported 130 various radio isotopic techniques using a wide variety of compounds. In Russia, even at most advanced medical establishments, cancer patients are said to have access to just 30 of them or so.

Experts say the available service can only fill between 1% and 5% of Russia’s need for PET diagnostics.

The cost of a PET scan is $1,000 or more using imported substances—more than month’s wages for the average Russian household whose average per-capita income as of late 2010 was less than $700.

Even if patients outside Moscow and St. Petersburg can afford PET, there are simply not enough places they can go to find a hospital that has the instrument. Unlike the U.S. with its estimated 2,000 PET centers across the country Russia only reportedly has seven such centers, of which six are based in the two largest cities and one in Chelyabinsk.

Eyeing a brighter PET future

To dramatically improve the situation the RF reportedly has plans to build a regional network of at least 140 PET centers. Two of them, in the Lipetsk and Orel regions, to be worth a reported total of $96m have been recently announced.

These future centers will become the primary market for Siberian State Medical University’s development, Mr. Yusubov said, adding that commercializing the Tomsk technology would make high-quality PET scans an affordable standard procedure in this country.
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