Dr. Guiyang Hao, Assistant Professor of Radiology, has been awarded a one-year, $100,000 Pilot Award from the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation (NETRF) to support his work exploring new nuclear imaging probes to detect neuroendocrine tumors.
Arising from the cells of the nervous and endocrine systems, neuroendocrine tumor (NET) cells have traits of both nerve cells and hormone-producing endocrine cells. Neuronal influences on the formation and progression of NETs remain unclear because it is unknown what biomarkers play key roles in neuron-cancer crosstalk, and no available imaging techniques exist to visualize tumor innervation, Dr. Hao explained. A promising biomarker for cancer diagnosis associated with neuron-cancer interactions in NETs is synaptic vesicle protein 2 isoform A (SV2A).
“We will try to develop noninvasive SV2A-specific positron emission tomography (PET) imaging probes as a tool to help understand the neuron-cancer interactions and develop new diagnostic and treatment strategies for neuroendocrine tumors,” he said.
Evidenced by some other cancer types, the activation of synaptic machinery could play a key role in the tumor innervation in NETs, Dr. Hao continued. While current PET imaging probes for neuroendocrine tumors are not able to investigate the synaptic machinery, SV2A is closely involved in that function, and it has been found overexpressed in NETs.
“Although SV2A PET neuroimaging probes are currently utilized for measuring synaptic density in neurodegenerative diseases, a new oncological version of SV2A-specific PET imaging probes is required to investigate the neuron-cancer interactions in neuroendocrine tumors outside of the brain,” he said.
The research offers significant clinical potential. Synaptophysin – a close analog of SV2A – is already used in routine biopsies of NETs to identify the neuroendocrine features, and the SV2A-targeting PET methodology represents a complementary noninvasive tool for the same purpose. In addition, once their design is proved successful, Dr. Hao’s team has the required expertise and resources from the National Cancer Institute-designated Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and state-of-the-art Cyclotron facility to move forward to clinical trials, he said.
After receiving his Ph.D. in radiopharmaceutical chemistry from Beijing Normal University in China, Dr. Hao spent two years at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan developing radiometal-based PET imaging probes. He came to UT Southwestern in 2008 as a postdoctoral fellow to continue his training in PET and single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) molecular imaging probes development. He joined the UTSW faculty as an Instructor of Radiology in 2011 and was promoted to Assistant Professor of Radiology in 2015.
Based in Boston, NETRF is the leading private funder of research into causes and treatments of neuroendocrine tumors to improve and extend the lives of those living with NETs.