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Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

What is PET?

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) is a medical imaging diagnostic that allows physicians and researchers to see a visual representation of organ function. PET imaging use radiotracers that bind to targeted receptors and allow us to see biochemical reactions within the targeted area. This type of imaging helps to reveal neurological pathways that lead to conditions such as substance addiction. It can also be used to diagnose early changes in biochemistry from diseases before more noticeable physical changes occur, allowing physicians to get an early jumpstart on treatments.

How it works

PET imaging detects pairs of gamma rays released from a tracer that is administered through an IV and reconstructs the images received into a 3d model. A tracer is a radioactive nucleotide, such as C11, that is bound to a natural chemical (or synthetic compound that mimics one) found in the body.

Once administered through an IV, the tracer targets the area where the natural chemical usually binds to. For example, [C11]Raclopride targets the D2 dopamine receptor which allows an image of dopamine expression to be made. These tracers generally have short half-lives.

A shorter half-life means that radiation is returned to background levels within a couple hours, minimizing exposure to the nuclear compound. There has been extensive research on the safety of PET imaging and it has been deemed to be a safe non-invasive procedure with no long term effects as result from the radio-tracer.