Nanomedicine and Molecular Imaging

Formulation of drugs into nanoparticles can potentially improve their pharmacokinetics, stability and toxicity profile, thereby augmenting their therapeutic index. In addition, nanomedicines can be designed to selectively deliver their cargo to a specific tissue or cell population. However, despite all these advantageous features, only a few nanoformulations have been approved for clinical use. This is partly due to the lack of non-invasive methods to identify patients amenable to nanotherapy, and, also very frequently, to deficient preclinical evaluation.

In this context, our research focuses on imaging-guided development of inflammation pro-resolving nanotherapies and, at the same time, the implementation of non-invasive imaging methods to monitor treatment and evaluate efficacy. More specifically, we exploit the natural ability of our nanoplatforms to interact with myeloid cells to selectively deliver inflammation pro-resolving drugs and promote atherosclerosis regression. In the nanotherapy development process we integrate optical and nuclear imaging techniques that help us to identify the most promising candidates for further therapeutic evaluation. The use of positron emission tomography (PET) is particularly suited, as it allows quantitative in vivo visualization of the formulation’s pharmacokinetics and biodistribution.

Conversely, non-invasive imaging is also a very powerful translational tool that allows the longitudinal assessment of a formulation’s therapeutic effects in large animal disease models using clinical scanners. To this end, we develop radiotracers for quantitative phenotyping of atherosclerotic lesions using PET imaging. In addition to providing information related to individual plaques, this approach can afford crucial data about total disease burden and also about the systemic effects of a given intervention.