Image-conscious researchers to meet at symposium

22 November 2012

New Zealand technologies being developed to more accurately deliver anticancer drugs, locate the sites where drugs are “switched on”, and to model the skin over a person’s entire body, are just some of the topics that will be discussed at the Maurice Wilkins Centre’s annual symposium on Friday 23 November.

The event, titled “New ways to image the body – from macro to nano” will present the latest imaging technology vital to the progression of medical science in the clinic and the laboratory. The day will begin with technologies used to image the whole body and its organs and move progressively down in scale to the imaging of individual molecules.

“Imaging helps us to understand what’s happening in the body in health and disease, and how it responds to treatment, so it’s a critical tool for both clinicians and scientists,” says Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre Professor Rod Dunbar. “Exciting new imaging technologies are being developed in New Zealand, and the symposium is an opportunity to share this expertise and hopefully spark new scientific collaborations.”

Amongst the presenters, Dr Jeff Smaill from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC) will describe research on a new way to “switch on” anti-cancer drugs only where they are needed. With colleagues Dr Adam Patterson from the ACSRC and Dr David Ackerley from Victoria University of Wellington, and collaborators at Nottingham and Maastricht Universities, he is developing a bacterium that selectively colonises tumours and, once there, produces an enzyme that converts otherwise inactive “pro-drugs” into potent anti-cancer agents.

To ensure this occurs only in tumours, the system is designed so that the enzyme also switches on a PET imaging agent, lighting up the parts of the body where the bacterium and therefore the enzyme is present. The New Zealand researchers are members of the Maurice Wilkins Centre and the Centre is helping to fund the work.

International speaker Dr Daniel Hausermann, head of the Imaging and Medical Beamline Team at the Australian Synchrotron, will discuss new capabilities for biological research. The synchrotron, an electron accelerator the size of a football field, creates extremely bright light that is channelled in beamlines for research. Its new imaging and medical beamline – the longest in the world – can be used to study biological structures such as blood vessels and dynamic process like breathing. New Zealand scientists routinely use the synchrotron and will learn about its new capabilities at the symposium.

Some of the other technologies to be presented on the day include: a new way of combining ultrasound and MRI imaging in real-time so that doctors can more precisely place needles to deliver cancer drugs; computer modelling an individual’s whole skin and body shape to more accurately mark sites of disease or treatment; a new molecular probe that improves the resolution of MRI; and nano-scale three-dimensional mapping of cells.

Further details including the full programme are available at:

www.mauricewilkinscentre.org