Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology

Developing novel chemical approaches with simpler methods, higher quality and wider availability for patients

 

Imaging Chemistry & Biology

Imaging Chemistry & Biology studies the development and assessment of molecular imaging agents to help us improve detection and understanding of disease. Our research groups work together in highly integrated ways with an emphasis on strong team ethos. In this way, we make exceptionally efficient use of our laboratory space and diverse academic expertise.

We interact closely with other departments in the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences to optimise imaging capability and translate new science into clinical application. Our specialisms are:

 

Cancer – Molecular imaging

Cancer research

Molecular imaging has assumed enormous importance, alongside structural and functional imaging, in the clinical evaluation of new cancer drugs, through the use of imaging biomarkers for selection of patients most likely to respond to specific drugs, and for early detection of response to treatment with the aim of accelerating the measurement of endpoints.

Within the department we are developing novel chemistry platforms applicable to both a range of cancer specific molecules and contrast labels (metal and non-metal, for PET, SPECT, MRI and/or optical), while at the same time optimising existing molecular imaging approaches. We are also developing novel delivery technologies applicable to the targeted delivery of MRI contrast agents, radionuclides, genetic material, or small molecule therapeutics, either singly or combined. Such approaches allow us to use these novel molecular imaging concepts and molecular probes for PET, SPECT, MR and optical imaging of novel cancer molecular targets, feeding the “translational pipeline” towards clinical oncology.

 

Cardiovascular

Sequential 18FDG PET scans through an isolated perfused rat heart exposed to regional low-flow ischemia ad reperfusion

Our group has several ongoing research projects which employ molecular imaging techniques to study and characterise cardiovascular disease. Historically, much of this work stemmed from using our unique combined PET/MR system (which we called PANDA) to simultaneously track cardiac glucose uptake by 18FDG PET and cardiac energetics (by 31P NMR spectroscopy) and relate them to each other. While this work continues, and now focuses investigating the role of hexokinase in maintaining cardiac viability and cardio protection, our research interests, available technologies and techniques have expanded significantly.

We currently have active research programs using PET to quantify and characterise cardiac hypoxia and oxidative stress, using SPECT to observe and characterise platelet adhesion to the myocardium and study the effects of platelets on arrhythmogenesis, and MR techniques including Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation to study cardiac metabolism of hyperpolarised substrates such as pyruvate or lactate during evolving heart disease.

 

Immunology

Immunology scan

Within the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology we have a number of projects developing contrast agents to better understand the fundamental immunology of inflammation, transplant rejection and monitoring of therapy response.

In vivo tracking of labelled stem and immune cells is a key component of several projects within the department, using both reporter genes and direct ex vivo labelling of cells, in conjunction with PET, SPECT and MR. Literature methods for radiolabelling cells abound but evidence that labelled cells behave and replicate normally is sparse and contradictory. It is imperative to check cell function and survival with a range of general and specific assays and minimise toxicity by selecting delivery systems that control sub-cellular contrast agent distribution.

 

Neuroscience

Brain scans

Non-invasive imaging of the central nervous system has been a major application of PET over the last 25 years. To date numerous 11C and 18F radiotracers have been developed and applied for basic, clinical and translational research into brain function in health and disease. These include radioligands for imaging numerous receptor and enzyme subtypes, labelled metabolic substrates, endogenous and exogenous compounds.

The Department has strong links to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and many other CNS-related departments at King’s. Diseases of interest include Schizophrenia, Autism, Anxiety, Depression, Dementia, Epilepsy, blood-brain-barrier function (e.g. Drug efflux pumps) glia imaging and the evaluation of novel and established therapeutics.

 

Musculoskeletal

Musculoskeletal X-ray

Currently research activities fall into two main areas; the use of functional imaging techniques to quantify bone metabolism in patients with metastatic and metabolic bone disease and the investigation of the link between osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Over the last decade we have developed and refined the 18F-fluoride PET technique to enhance precision and reduce scan complexity and more recently have developed a unique method for quantitatively assessing bone metabolism at any site within the skeleton.

The research group combines extensive experience within the School in the fields of metabolic bone disease, PET imaging, nuclear medicine, image processing and computational science to better understand the pathophysiology of metastatic and metabolic bone disease and the evaluation of novel drugs for the enhanced treatment of these patients.

 

New Chemistry

CuGTS 1 chemistry molecule

Chemistry research in the department is focused on:

  • Organic PET radiochemistry for synthesis for small molecules labelled with C-11 and F-18

  • Novel coordination chemistry of metallic radionuclides for PET (Cu-64, Cu-61, Ga-68), SPECT (TC-99m, In-111, Ga-67) and radionuclide therapy (especially Re-188, also Lu-177, Y-90, Cu-64)

  • Novel bioconjugate chemistry for improved and site-specific modification of biological molecules (proteins, peptides) with radionuclides and contrast agents

  • Nanoparticle design and synthesis for multimodality imaging applications (e.g. PET/MR. SPECT/MR)

A key aim is to make radiolabelling simpler, faster and more efficient, and to make radiopharmaceuticals of higher quality and hence more likely to be widely available for the benefit of patients. Because of the integration within the Department and School we can exploit the considerable scope for application of the new chemistry across many biomedical areas.

School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences

The Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology sits within the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences. The School is a cutting-edge research and teaching division, dedicated to the development, clinical translation, and clinical application of medical imaging and computational modelling technologies. Our objective is to facilitate research and teaching guided by clinical questions and aimed at novelty, understanding of physiology and pathophysiology, as well as the development of new diagnostic tools and therapies.

Robot arm

Placed uniquely within St Thomas’ Hospital, the School offers an exciting opportunity to perform truly translational research, extending right from the basic science level through to the clinic. This is also supported by substantial investment through our:

and the creation of the UK’s largest and most comprehensive PET radiochemistry facility:

The School is an interdisciplinary ecosystem, with combined expertise of both clinical and non-clinical academics (51 non-clinical and 21 clinical academics), in total the School has over 600 staff (including Research, Technical and Professional Services) and post-graduate students. As a testament to our outstanding educators, researchers and staff, King’s has ranked 4th globally (2021) for Medical Technologies in the Shanghai Ranking and is also 3rd in the UK for Medical Technology & Bioengineering Education in the Complete University Guide. King's has also been ranked 1st in Europe and 3rd in the world for Medical Imaging. The results of REF 2021 evidenced the strength and impact of the research with Engineering ranked 12th overall by GPA (the overall quality of the research) in the largest sub-panel of 88 institutions with 75% of impact 4* (outstanding impact) and 25% 3*. We also ranked top 6 for impact out of 89 submissions, highlighting how our research is making a profound impact for our communities.

The School’s facilities include state-of-the-art chemistry, engineering and physics laboratories, as well as clinical imaging systems. We are continuing to invest in the School by creating additional facilities, which includes a mock operating theatre and specialist optics laboratories. The School has an established research track record in MRI and PET with clinical applications in cardiology, oncology and immunology and we have initiated ambitious plans to develop St Thomas’ as a MedTech cluster for the next generation of technologies, putting latest innovations directly into the hands of clinicians more rapidly.

Embedded within the School, King’s and GSTT have invested c£40m to create the UK’s largest and most comprehensive PET radiochemistry facility, the Positron Emitting Radiopharmaceutical Laboratory (PERL) for GMP production of PET radiotracers. The PERL laboratory houses eight research hot-cells, two GMP cleanroom laboratories housing 12 manufacturing hot-cells and two isolators. The facility became operational in early 2021.

Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

Robotic surgery

The Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine (FoLSM) is one of the largest and most successful centres for biomedical research and education in the UK. The Faculty has unparalleled expertise in basic, translational and clinical research, which is deployed to inform and deliver our education programmes, enhance clinical innovation and serve our communities.

The Faculty employs almost 1,900 FTE staff, of which there are 440 FTE academic staff and 800 FTE research staff. The Faculty is configured as six Schools and the cross-cutting Centre for Education. The Faculty holds an Athena SWAN Silver award. It has a comprehensive programme of initiatives to support an inclusive environment and culture, and promote diversity across our staff and student communities, as well as the leadership of the Faculty. The Faculty is led by the Executive Dean, supported by the Faculty Leadership Team.

The Faculty is located on four sites – Guy’s, St Thomas’, Waterloo and Denmark Hill on the King’s College Hospital site – reflecting our strong partnership with clinical centres of excellence.

The six Schools are:

  • School of Basic & Medical Biosciences

  • School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences

  • School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • School of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine & Sciences

  • School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences

  • School of Life Course & Population Sciences

About King’s College London

King’s College London offers an intellectually stimulating environment, where staff are dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and learning in the service of society. We are a multi-Faculty institution, providing high-quality education, research and innovation across the sciences, humanities, medicine, law, dentistry, and social sciences. As a member of the Russell Group, an association of leading UK research-intensive universities, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards in research and education. King’s is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres spread across its three teaching hospitals.

St Thomas’ Campus is located in central London, overlooking the River Thames, next to Westminster Bridge and opposite the Houses of Parliament.

King’s is one of the top 10 UK universities, ranked 35th in the world (QS World University Rankings, 2022) and the fourth oldest university in England, based in the heart of London. King’s has over 31,000 students from some 150 countries, and over 8,500 employees. King’s is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of about £1BN (2021).

King’s Strategic Vision looks forward to our 200th anniversary in 2029. It shows how King’s will make the world a better place by focusing on five key strategic priorities: educate to inspire and improve; research to inform and innovate; serve to shape and transform; a civic university at the heart of London; an international community that serves the world.

King’s comprises nine faculties, each with an academic leader and professional services lead: Executive Dean of Faculty and Director of Operations. Professional Services are provided in every Faculty as well as centrally to deliver support services for students and staff.

Our faculties

  • Faculty of Arts & Humanities

  • Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences

  • Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

  • Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences

  • Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy

  • Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care

  • Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

  • King’s Business School

  • The Dickson Poon School of Law