Yale Bulletin and Calendar

January 26, 2007|Volume 35, Number 15















Research at the Yale PET Center will help promote understanding of the molecular basis of diseases such as cancer -- thereby promoting the development of new drug treatments.

Yale opens PET Center

Yale officially opened its state-of-the-art Yale Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Research Center for molecular imaging with a ceremony held on Jan. 18 at the Anlyan Center auditorium.

PET is a non-invasive diagnostic scanning technique that provides researchers and clinicians with visual images of organ function. PET scans can detect biochemical changes in body tissues before structural damage occurs from disease. These indications of early disease allow clinicians to more quickly identify and treat disease.

Pfizer Inc. has invested in the Yale-Pfizer Bioimaging Alliance and contributed to the establishment of the Yale PET Center, which was created to advance the interests of Yale clinicians, scientists and students in molecular imaging research. Yale broke ground for the 22,000-square-foot facility in 2004. Located at 801 Howard Ave., the center is in close proximity to other School of Medicine departments and the Pfizer Clinical Research Unit in New Haven.

Speakers at the Jan. 18 ceremony and reception included President Richard C. Levin; Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine; Jeffrey B. Kindler, chair and chief executive officer of Pfizer Inc.; and Dr. Diane K. Jorkasky, vice president of Worldwide Clinical Research Operations at Pfizer Inc.

The keynote address, "PET Imaging: The Essential Foundation for the Imaging Critical Path," was presented by Dr. George Mills, director of the Division of Medical Imaging and Radiopharmaceutical Drug Products of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Mills oversees the FDA division responsible for approving new contrast media and diagnostic imaging drugs that help enhance the visualization of an X-ray, CT, MRI or PET scan. The division also approves new biologic drugs for non-cancerous, blood-related conditions.

In his remarks, Levin said, "The PET Center exemplifies Yale's commitment to cutting-edge research and strong partnership with industry."

It especially marks an important milestone in the thriving partnership between Pfizer and Yale, he said. "This is the culmination of years of dedicated effort on the part of leading scientists and staff at our respective institutions; the delivery on a promise sealed many years ago to imagine our partnership in the most expansive terms, to find areas of mutual interest and develop programs and facilities to meet them."

Levin and Alpern praised the efforts of Yale professors Dr. Steve Bunney and Dr. John Krystal, who initiated the Bioimaging Alliance with Pfizer. They also acknowledged the hard work of Carolyn Slayman, deputy dean of the School of Medicine, as well as professors Dr. James Brink and Dr. J. James Frost, who spearheaded efforts to bring the Yale PET Center project to completion.

"This PET Center is one of the best examples of how academia and pharmaceuticals can work together," said Alpern. "We have a culmination of two visions working synergistically together."

Understanding the molecular basis of the diseases of the central nervous system, cancer and cardiovascular disease will help researchers develop targeted treatments. The high-resolution imaging and quantitative analysis that Yale's PET Center offers will give researchers a more rapid and accurate way to determine whether a drug is reaching its target in the brain and other tissues. This advantage will enable earlier decisions on whether to embark on a large clinical trial or abandon a drug candidate before investing large amounts of money.

Dr. J. James Frost, director of the PET Center and professor of diagnostic radiology and psychiatry and chief of nuclear medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said, "Clinical trials to determine a drug's effectiveness often fail because a drug doesn't reach its target or there isn't a sufficient amount of the drug to treat the disease. PET can now be used to determine this very early on. This knowledge will help cut down on large, costly clinical trials, and research can be focused on alternative drugs."

Targeting where and how well medicines work in the body is now possible, but a second, future use for PET, Frost said, will be to identify patients with specific molecular abnormalities, and to select the right drug to treat an identified pathological change, such as an increase or decrease in a brain chemical or receptor.

"Schizophrenia in one patient might not be the same type of schizophrenia in another patient," said Frost. "The brain scan may in the future not only identify whether it is schizophrenia, but also identify the sub-type of schizophrenia. That is where individualized medicine comes into play. We would then be able to subcategorize patients within an otherwise homogenous category for their specific illness and then individualize their treatment."

Another potential use for PET is the identification of specific biochemical changes in the target organs that correlate with the therapeutic responses demonstrated by large clinical trials. This use of PET scanning would permit the early identification of a positive clinical response, such as increased survival, based on a biochemical endpoint. In the future, PET could be used in this way as a substitute or surrogate for the usual clinical measures and thus speed the development and approval phases of a new drug.

Pfizer's Kindler noted: "Because diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer and heart conditions represent highly complex scientific puzzles and enormous challenges to our health care system, it is imperative that we bring together great scientists to work in partnership. This venture illustrates how great things can happen when a science-based company like Pfizer and a leading academic medical center like Yale combine resources. Speaking on behalf of the more than 6,000 Pfizer colleagues at our three R&D [research and development] sites in Connecticut, I am confident that this collaboration will yield important research insights and, ultimately, new treatments for patients."

The Yale PET Center is part of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and collaborates with School of Medicine departments and sections including psychiatry and cardiovascular medicine. The staff will also collaborate heavily with the Yale Cancer Center. Collaborations with Pfizer and other industry partners are advancing the use of molecular imaging in new medication discovery and the development of new diagnostic PET radiopharmaceuticals.

Clinicians at the nearby Pfizer Clinical Research Unit will collaborate with the Yale PET Center on new drug development projects. Pfizer recruits volunteers who are given potential new medicines under close supervision by physicians and other Pfizer staff. Some of these volunteers will be referred to the Yale PET Center, where PET scans will be done to confirm the safety and effectiveness of these potential new treatments. Several collaborative studies have already taken place, with more planned for the future.

Frost said the Yale PET Center is one of the few PET laboratories in the United States that is cGMP (current good manufacturing practice) compliant. It meets the highest safety standards for human subjects and quality control and has been certified by Pfizer as such through a rigorous review process. The center also boasts one of the few PET scanners in the world dedicated to imaging the human brain that achieves a resolution of 2.5 millimeters.

The lead staff at the PET Center has a combined total experience of about nine decades in the field. In addition to Frost, they include co-directors Richard E. Carson, professor of diagnostic radiology and biomedical engineering and chief physicist; Yu-Shin Ding, professor of diagnostic radiology and chief radiochemist; and Henry Huang, a radiochemist and associate professor of diagnostic radiology. Other faculty staff members include James Ropchan, lead production radiochemist and associate research scientist in diagnostic radiology; David Labaree, associate research scientist in diagnostic radiology; and Nabeel Nabulsi, associate research scientist in diagnostic radiology.

-- By Karen Peart


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