CTRIC Projects


With the launch of the Colorado Translational Research Imaging Center (CTRIC), a wide range of original, exciting research projects is possible on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

The new center uses the latest scanning technology to take images of cells after a patient is injected with a specially formulated compound—a radiopharma-ceutical—so that researchers can see what’s going on inside on a molecular level.

With its startup funding, CTRIC has been approved to sponsor an initial round of pilot projects designed to advance the understanding of a variety of ailments. Based on discoveries in the pilot rounds, researchers could seek grants to conduct larger studies. Following are some of the approved pilots.

Testing a Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease 

Huntington Potter, PhD, professor of neurology and director of Alzheimer’s disease programs, plans to study whether or not an experimental treatment can reverse brain damage and mental impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

There are currently several drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but none stop the progression of the disease or reverse its effects. Potter hopes the drug Leukine will be effective for that purpose.

To find out, Peter Smith-Jones, PhD, will be synthesizing a compound that binds to Alzheimer’s proteins in the brain to make them detectable through a PET/CT scan. Study subjects with mild to moderate Alzheim-er’s will be injected with the compound and then scanned to determine the amount of Alzheimer’s-related protein in the brain before treat-ment with the drug.

After three weeks of treatment, the patients will be scanned again to determine whether or not Leukine has decreased the amount of Alzheimer’s protein.

Patients’ mental function will also be assessed for improvement. If the treatment results in improved mental status for the patients, it could lead to one of the first successful treatments that reverses the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Identifying the Role of GABA in Primary Focal Dystonia 

Primary focal dystonia (PFD) is a chronic and often disabling neurological disorder that causes excessive muscle movements. There is no cure, and current treatments are only partially effective.

Gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA) is the chief neurotransmitter that is responsible for inhibiting activity in the brain. While the cause of PFD is not known, it is believed that GABA dysfunction plays a key role.

Brian Berman, MD, MS, assistant professor of neurology, will investi-gate whether reduced brain receptors for GABA is the cause of PFD. A better understanding of the cause of PFD is needed so that new treatment options can be developed.

Scientists in the CTRIC laboratory will synthesize a compound that binds to GABA receptors and has a radioactive element that can be measured by the PET/CT scanner. How many GABA receptors through-out the brain are bound by the new compound can then be mea-sured and compared between PFD patients and study subjects who do not have the disease.

Berman expects that there will be fewer GABA receptors in certain brain regions of people with PFD and that this reduction of receptors will cor-respond to the severity of excessive muscle movement symptoms.

Preventing Joint Disease in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints, causing joint pain, swelling and significant disability.

While the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, immune system abnormalities in the blood—proteins called autoantibodies—can be detected years before the onset of joint symptoms.

By testing for these autoantibodies, physicians can screen individuals who are at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis in the future. These autoantibodies suggest that the condition starts in the body outside of the joints. If that site can be identified, it could be possible to develop new strategies for preventing joint disease in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

This pilot study will investigate whether or not the lungs are the first site of inflammation and autoantibody production in rheumatoid arthritis.

Study subjects who have the rheumatoid arthritis autoantibodies in their blood, but do not have symptoms in their joints, will receive an injection of a compound that binds to inflamed tissue. This compound has a radioactive element attached to it so that it appears as a bright area on a PET/CT scan.

M. Kristen Demoruelle, MD, will compare the intensity of the brightness in the lungs and joints of subjects with the rheumatoid arthritis autoantibodies to that of control subjects without the autoantibodies. If the lungs are inflamed before the joints are inflamed in rheumatoid arthritis, the findings may lead to strategies that focus on the lungs in order to prevent future joint disability. 

Improving Prostate Cancer Imaging 

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men and the second leading cause of death. Diagnosing prostate cancer as slow-growing or aggressive, and finding its exact locations, is very important for effective treatment.  

One method of finding cancers other than prostate involves injecting radioactive glucose that is readily taken up by cancer cells. It is then possible to measure the amount of glucose trapped in the cancer tumors with a PET/CT scanner. However, prostate cancer cells do not take up the radioactive glucose well and, as a result, images in early-stage, small or recurrent prostate cancers may not be clear.

This study, conducted by Isabel Schlaepfer, PhD, instructor of pharmacology, with Phillip Koo, MD, Department of Radiology, and Elaine Lam, MD, Department of Medicine, includes administering a drug to prostate cancer patients that safely reduces the amount of fat uptake in their cells. By reducing the fat in those cells, it is more likely that injected radioactive glucose will be absorbed more effectively by the prostate cancer cells.

The result should be brighter PET/CT scan signals in areas with prostate cancer and clearer images. If so, the drug that enhances the uptake of radioactive glucose could become an important tool for physicians who diagnose and treat prostate cancer.

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