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School of Psychology and Counselling

Professor Paul Cumming has recently joined the School of Psychology and Counselling, and aims to establish a program of clinical and preclinical molecular imaging research facilitated through his cross-appointment at the QIMR-Berghofer. The main part of his work has concerned the development of radiopharmaceuticals for molecular brain imaging by positron emission tomography (PET).

Working in conjunction with radiochemists, Professor Cumming has assessed the fitness of new radiotracers for PET studies through preclinical studies of binding of the ligand to target neuroreceptors or enzymes in vitro, and in basic studies of the biodistribution of the molecule in the brain of living rodents, which can be measured using preclinical PET systems. Once meeting various criterial, the radiotracer may then be judged worth developing further for translation research in humans.

At this stage, it becomes possible to propose clinical PET studies first of normal control subjects at various ages, and then in clinical populations, for example in patients with neurodegenerative diseases or psychiatric disorders.

For historical reasons, many of the best-established PET tracers have targeted the brain dopamine system. Indeed, much of Professor Cumming’s research has involved the dopamine synthesis tracer [18F]fluoro-DOPA (FDOPA), which presents a considerable challenge due to the complexity of its metabolism, and yet remains widely used for brain PET studies since the late 1980s.

Thanks to developments in radiochemistry, brain PET researchers can now set their sties on a much wider range of molecular targets, notable the receptors for serotonin, noradrenaline, histamine, opioid peptides, and divers other neurotransmitters. Other emerging targets include brain enzymes such as monoamine oxidase, and important markers of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

Figure: Maps showing the steady-state storage capacity for metabolites of FDOPA in brain of healthy controls and patients with schizophrenia.

Paul Cumming figure 01

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