One of the greatest benefits of molecular imaging is that it can detect changes at a cellular and molecular level so that problems can be identified before any condition has advanced to the stage where any physical changes caused by the disease can be seen. The fact that more specific information can be gathered also allows for more accurate diagnosis.
The severity and extent of cancer and neurological and cardiovascular diseases can be determined allowing for the planning of a treatment regime which is specific to individual patients. There are also other factors which can be measured which might relevant such as tissue character.
The effect that treatment has can also be measured at an early stage and any changes can be made rapidly. Individual risk factors can also be determined and specific precautions can be taken. This leads to better treatment and will reduce the overall cost of healthcare with a better cure rate.
Other benefits are that it is non-invasive and there are mostly no safety concerns. The development of pharmaceutical drugs can also be advanced very quickly as the exact effect on the body can be more clearly seen. This will means that new treatments will be better and be created more quickly and therefore at a lower cost.
Various imaging tools can be used and normally some kind of biomarker or probe is introduced to the body in vary small concentrations. These interact with a target cell or molecule in a way that creates some kind of measurable effect but does not affect its biological function.
Nuclear imaging such as single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) is the predominant method being used. These provide the highest level of resolution and targeting can be very specific as there are many different tracers which can be used. Of the two PET provides a better image but the tracers require a cyclotron to be created. Because they don’t usually last very long this will generally have to be on location. For this reason it is the most expensive technique which can be used.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has a lower image resolution but it has very good spatial and temporal resolution and it can also show soft tissue contrast even without the uses of tracers. The use of nanoparticles can however help to achieve a higher level of contrast.
The least expensive technique which can be used is ultrasound. Microscopic spheres filled with gas can be used intravenously. They resonate sound waves amplify the ultrasound signal. For other areas of the body perfluorocarbons can be introduced to the blood from where it can then cross the arterial walls.
Optical imaging is high speed and has a very good resolution and along with optical imaging it has no safety concerns. Multiple fluorescent tracers can be used to highlight different elements but it is limited by the depth of penetration.
Molecular imaging can be combined with other imaging tools such as computer tomography (CT) to build up a more complete picture of the area being examined. Using hybrid nanoparticles could have the benefits of molecular imaging done by different methods using the same probes.