Imaging contributes to the science of quantitative imaging by developing new technologies that improve the quantitative accuracy of molecular imaging (advanced PET detectors, advanced optical imaging systems, quantitative imaging biomarkers).

Quantitative Imaging Biomarkers of Early Cancer Detection

Breast cancer represents one of the major health problems. Mortality rates in Slovenia are above the European average. Slovenia has an extremely successful breast screening program (DORA), but the overall screening detection rate is still too low, and cancer detected between screening is still unacceptably large. Integration of novel biomarkers is active research that contributes to current guidelines for breast cancer risk assessment. To improve screening methodology, integrating dynamic changes from one screening time point to another (longitudinal assessment) and harnessing the power of big data analytics extracting features predictive of cancer (spatial assessment) could be used.

Quantitative Imaging Biomarkers of Neurodegenerative Brain Disorders

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are debilitating and largely untreatable conditions strongly linked with age. As Europe has a rapidly aging population, neurodegenerative diseases are among the leading medical and societal challenges faced by EU society ( Biomarkers play a significant role in the understanding and diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders. In neurodegenerative diseases, characteristic metabolic brain patterns can be identified with network analysis (e.g., Scaled Subprofile Model/Principal Component Analysis – SSM/PCA) of FDG PET/CT brain scans. These syndrome-specific metabolic patterns can be detected already in the preclinical disease stages, which may last for decades. Detecting and understanding these earliest disease stages is crucial for the development of disease-modifying treatments.

Advanced Optical Imaging Systems

Biomedical optical imaging (BMOI) enables capturing valuable information from biological processes in diseased and healthy tissues. Increased understanding of life at the macro- and microscales have improved clinical diagnosis and treatment. However, multiple challenges of BMOI remain, such as incomplete information available by a single BMOI modality, which requires combining multiple complementary modalities, quantification of optical imaging biomarkers (OIB), and inadequate understanding of relations between macro- and microscopic optical properties.

Advanced Detectors for PET

Despite massive technological developments of PET devices in the last few decades, fundamental physical limits of detector performance have still not been fully reached. Two active fields of research aimed at improving image quality through detector improvements are pushing the limits of time-of-flight (TOF PET) resolution and geometric efficiency through axially extending the scanner to cover the whole body length (total-body PET). The two approaches have the potential to improve image quality in terms of signal-to-noise ratio by a factor of 16 (compared to non-TOF PET) and 6.3 (compared to 20 cm axial FOV), respectively. This is exemplified by the clinically relevant benefits observed with a commercial scanner with TOF improved to 214 ps, and with the first total-body scanner.