Collecting information is an important first step to attacking any problem. When confronted with an unknown health problem, medical imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, allows doctors to see inside a patient’s body. If a cancer is present, these images can reveal its location and size, and what other organs and structures may be affected.
John Valliant, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at McMaster University, is developing probes that may help doctors take even better pictures of diseases, allowing them to match the right treatment to the right patient.
Beyond detecting cancer, Valliant’s probes tease out information on how a particular tumour functions, which can be different, even within the same patient. This gives doctors important clues.
“What you really want to know is, how can I stop the disease? How can I shut it down?” explains Valliant. “By understanding the molecules and the function of the disease on the inside, you can better select the best treatment for the disease.”
These probes can be taken even further by incorporating medical isotopes that give off radiation that not only enable imaging, but also kill nearby cells. Probes that combine imaging diagnostics with therapy are called theranostics. A side benefit is that the cancer can be monitored over time to make sure that treatment is working.
From an economic standpoint, the healthcare system also benefits from personalized medicine.
“New treatments are targeted to specific types of disease, so not all treatments work for all types of prostate cancers. But these treatments are actually very expensive, but work effectively on maybe 20% of the patients,” says Valliant.
Pinpointing the right candidates ensures that each treatment is paired with the patients with the best chance of responding positively.