Scientists at the Carlos III University in Madrid (UC3M) are participating in a European research project designed to study tuberculosis treatments. The objective of the study is to improve diagnostic imaging technology in order to help develop new drugs to treat the disease.
Project PreDiCT-TB is being developed jointly by the Seventh Framework Program and the European pharmaceutical industry in the hopes of studying and improving the treatment of tuberculosis, and infectious disease that affects nearly nine million people throughout the world.
The goal is to develop a set of pre-clinical trials ('in vitro' and 'in vivo') that will provide critical data for identifying decision-making criteria regarding the effectiveness of a given treatment, as well as to optimize the clinical studies of new combinations of drugs used to fight tuberculosis. "These data will, first, offer us an early evaluation of the efficiency of the combinations of drugs used to treat tuberculosis; and, second, they will allow us to optimize the clinical studies with patients", states the head of research at UC3M, Juan José Vaquero, from the Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering Department.
The work being done at this Madrid university is mainly focused on the research and the development of new pre-clinical imaging technology, as well as on methods for processing and analyzing images for the evaluation and follow-up of illness in animal models. "We are going to develop new in vivo molecular image devices and also work on the synthesis of very specific probes for the biomarkers of this illness that have been identified by other partners in the consortium", explains Juan José Vaquero. "We are collaborating very closely with GlaxoSmithKline, whose laboratories are going to use our equipment, as well as with specialists from the Infectious Disease and Microbiology Service of Gregorio Marañon University General Hospital (Servicio de Enfermedades Infecciosas y Microbiología del Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón - Madrid), who have a great deal of experience working with both the biology and the clinical aspects of tuberculosis; this facilitates the transformation of our results into clinical applications", comments the professor.
UC3M is participating in this project as a technological partner. Its contribution is focused on its role as a specialist in pre-clinical molecular imaging in animal models. The short-term goal is to develop a low-cost tomographic X-ray technique for rapid screenings. With such a technique, the scientists could follow the evolution of the disease and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in animal models. The long term goal is to perfect this technique, including positron emission tomography (PET) in order to make it more sensitive and specific, so that it can be used to take quantitative measurements. This procedure would substitute the one that is currently being carried out in the laboratory, which is slower and more costly. To complete this substitution, changes in the imaging technology will be introduced, so that greater resolution can be obtained. "This way-Vaquero explains- with just one examination, we will be able to visualize the complete lung of a rat or guinea pig, with enough detail to detect the disease at its earliest possible stage".
This is the first time the use of quantitative molecular imaging is proposed to study the disease in animal models. It carries a technological and methodological challenge, because its development requires blending various research groups: new electronic radiation detection technologies are going to be used to improve the sensitivity of the current systems and, at the same time, algorithms for image reconstruction and quantitative analysis that accompany the new electronic technology are going to be applied.
A forgotten disease