RTF VII: Multiscale imaging

Coordinators:  J.-B. Hövener (CAU), R. Huber (UzL), M. Rafecas (UzL)

New technology approaches are researched in RTF VII to enable better and more precise imaging in patients. This research area tackles the development of new methods of magnetic resonance tomography, positron emission tomography and modern optical imaging with lasers. The new imaging systems will play an important role in even more precise diagnosis of inflammatory diseases, in the assessment and measurement of their severity, in the planning of treatment and in demonstrating the success of treatment.

What does this research area’s work build on?

Inspecting the patient with the naked eye is one of the oldest and most important methods in diagnosing and planning treatment for diseases. For a long time, the simple visual inspection has been supplemented by various technical methods in order to make even more precise determinations and diagnoses. Thus, among other innovations, x-ray technology, magnetic resonance tomography and ultrasound imaging have dramatically improved the precision of medical treatment.

Particularly in recent years, a number of different, radically new approaches have been developed in conventional and hyperpolarized magnetic resonance tomography, positron emission tomography and so-called optical coherence tomography, which could become powerful tools in precision medicine for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. These new approaches are the starting point for the research activities in RTF VII.

What are the main research objectives?

In RTF VII, the aim is to develop new technological methods with which we can already detect inflammation before it becomes apparent in the form of visible symptoms. Methods should also be developed with which we can measure the severity of the current symptoms of inflammation, without the source of error of the subjective judgement of the doctor performing the diagnosis.  In addition, the methods should serve to enable very early determination of the efficacy of medication once it has been administered to an individual, and thereby decide individually on continuation of the treatment.  


What makes this research area special?

The most striking feature of RTF VII is the complementary nature of the imaging methods researched. These complement each other in an ideal way.  For example, magnetic resonance tomography has the ability to map the entire inner body of patients, and it provides outstanding contrast in the soft tissue. However, the spatial resolution is limited to a few tenths of a millimeter. Although optical imaging methods may suffer from a lower penetration depth, they offer unrivalled spatial resolution and can display the smallest cellular details in the tissue. In turn, positron emission tomography can theoretically detect even the smallest concentrations of chemical substances such as metabolites, i.e. metabolic products. Thus, the methods in RTF VII complement each other ideally regarding their unique strengths and weaknesses.


What does the research area contribute to Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation?

Precision medicine draws on the classification of patients and their respective disease patterns in order to enable the most appropriate and effective treatment possible. To do so, precision medicine uses the methods of molecular diagnostics, imaging and analysis. Therefore, the imaging technology efforts in RTF VII represent the corresponding complementary counterpoint to the molecular diagnostic techniques. RTF VII will provide new laboratory instruments, medical technology, imaging methods and multi-parametric analysis procedures which directly complement the existing clinical imaging.


Cooperation with other research areas in the cluster

There is an important connection with research area CD-4. The goal here is to put the optical imaging devices developed in RTF VII into clinical use in CD-4, and evaluate their potential in dermatology, gastroenterology and pulmology. Furthermore, the technologies from RTF VII will be used in CD-2 for assessing the intake of medications, and used in general for the stratification of patients and the development of new therapeutic endpoints, which also includes live imaging of the metabolism of the microbiome (CD-2). In addition, cutting-edge optical and hyperpolarized magnetic resonance imaging processes, which are currently only usable in laboratory environments, will be transferred to prototypes in RTF VII and evaluated right through to use in patients (CD-1, CD-4).