Recent advances in our understanding of the pathophysiology of inflammatory processes at the molecular level, combined with progress in radiopharmaceutical sciences, has boosted the development of nuclear medicine techniques for the diagnosis of infection/inflammation.
The use of radiolabelled white blood cells has been studied and evaluated in several pathologies and is still the reference method. Several alternative approaches, however, have been developed that may, in the future, improve the specificity and the ease of use of the technique. For the first time, a radio-pharmaceutical that may distinguish between sterile and septic inflammation, 99Tcm-Infecton, has been developed. Also, monoclonal antibody fragments, cytokines and a variety of new synthetic peptides that bind specifically to granulocytes have been prepared. Particularly promising appears to be the detection of the expression of adhesion molecules by activated endothelium as a first-line technique for the detection of inflammatory foci.
For the diagnosis of autoimmunity and chronic inflammatory processes, important progress has also been made. Autoimmunity can now be studied by in vivo detection of tissue-infiltrating activated lymphocytes by radiolabelled interleukin-2. A radiopharmaceutical for the diagnosis of monocyte infiltration, J001X, is also available, and the commercially available Octreoscan holds promise in autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases.
The efforts of the scientific community have given us new perspectives in diagnostic nuclear medicine: easier techniques that promise better sensitivity and specificity are now also being tested for the study of new disease conditions. The results of the clinical trials now in progress will determine the future of this challenging and fascinating field and the role of nuclear medicine in the management of patients with infection/inflammation.
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