First PET-MRI images of patient with inflammatory bowel disease

The number of individuals suffering from life-long inflammatory bowel disease is increasing. Now, thanks to a collaboration that began at a Bioimaging AIMday held at Uppsala University as recently as 2015, the first patient with ulcerative colitis has been examined with PET-MRI in a unique pilot study at Uppsala University Hospital.

People with inflammatory bowel disease comprise a complex and growing population that is rarely cured of the illness. Furthermore, since the condition is characterised by episodes of relapse, many individuals are recurring hospital patients. Opportunities for medical imaging with PET / MRI available in Uppsala are now utilised for these patients as a new way to monitor both the disease and its treatment effects. The results present a new and exciting in vivo picture of human inflammatory bowel tissue.

“No one has ever done this before. This is a unique study and the results are very promising. We believe that PET / MRI technology may be very important for visualising the course of inflammatory bowel disease,” says Mats Bergström, former head of the preclinical lab at Uppsala University Hospital’s PET Center who now works for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Among other things, the investigators have been able to visualise a very interesting receptor system never before tested for inflammatory bowel disease. The system, which is strongly up-regulated, is also described in the literature as a potentially important additional indicator of inflammatory bowel disease for biomarkers currently used today. This finding could therefore represent a new way to understand and characterise the illness.

“We can exploit the advantages of PET / MRI and obtain information about the disease that cannot be gathered in any other way. We can also see the effects of new drug testing and access treatment results much earlier. PET / MRI also overcomes the clinical difficulties traditionally associated with examining inflammatory bowel disease,” continues Mats.

The pilot study is a direct result of collaboration that was initiated thanks to an AIMday in Bioimaging that Uppsala University Innovation (UU Innovation) organised in 2015. ‘AIMday’ is a unique one-day meeting format aimed at forging contacts between academic researchers and industry. On this occasion, it brought GSK’s Mats into contact with Uppsala researchers and professors Per Hellström and Håkan Ahlström, both experts in intestinal diseases, as well as adjunct professor Gunnar Antoni, a specialist in PET / MRI and PET tracer chemistry. Mats Bergström is very pleased with the collaboration. He is also happy and grateful for UU Innovation’s support.

“The AIMday initiative is an incredibly valuable meeting concept. I try to go to as many as I can. We also received additional support from UU Innovation, including help with initial funding that speeded up the study and that today allows us to present such very exciting data”, he notes.

Mats also believes that the new study will reinforce Uppsala’s reputation as a centre for medical imaging and position its extensive knowledge within PET-MRI throughout Europe.

“Here you can find unique expertise and opportunities to perform clinical trials, so it is certainly worthwhile spreading the news about this highly successful Uppsala activity”, he concludes.

Mats Bergström, GSK.