In the NTR, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) team focused on the project “Diagnostic nodal staging with nuclear and near-infrared fluorescence molecular imaging,” in which our overall goal was not only to develop fluorescence molecular imaging devices and imaging agents for cancer staging, but to accelerate their clinical translation by “building in” comparative efficacy to “gold-standard” nuclear molecular imaging techniques through hybrid imaging devices as well as dual-labeled imaging agents. There are four rationales for our approach. First, upon combining the emerging NIRF imaging technique with nuclear imaging techniques, the advantages, limitations, as well as clinical opportunities for biomedical optics could be readily identified by practitioners who are experts not in optical imaging, but rather, in a complementary area of nuclear imaging. Secondly, for effective translation of optical imaging into clinical practice, we sought to establish a “clinical home,” with technologists, clinicians, and industries in nuclear medicine—all of whom are poised with knowledge, experience, and technical capabilities to adopt and champion optical cancer staging technologies that are complementary to their discipline. To this end, the recent adoption of optical technologies by the membership of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, now renamed to the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, may enable permeation of optical technology to clinicians and technologists who may be clinical users and adopters of the technology. Another important motivation for partnering the optical and nuclear imaging communities is to more readily identify regulatory strategies that are used by nuclear imaging and that could be employed to accelerate the clinical translation of new classes of optical technologies that for the past two decades the biomedical optical community has promised, but with few exceptions (such as optical coherence tomography, pulse oximetry, and bilirubin monitoring), has not been successfully achieved. Finally, the optical/nuclear partnership was sought to expand the utility of nuclear medicine by adding NIRF reporters to the repertoire of nuclear imaging agents as well as using NIRF as a new tool to advance the translation of emerging nuclear imaging agents.
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