Imaging innovation enables easier diagnosis of fungal lung infections

Aspergillus fumigatus spores are microscopic and everywhere. Most of us breathe them every day and our immune systems make quick work of them, so they pose little threat. However for individuals with compromised immunity, such as leukemia and bone marrow transplant patients, the fungus can more easily take root in the lungs and result in a fatal pulmonary disease. New research from the University of Exeter in England produced a new imaging method that attaches radioactive antibodies to the infected portions of lungs, making them visible to clinicians.

"This test allows a more accurate and speedy diagnosis of an infection which can kill those who have a weakened immune system," Christopher Thornton, PhD, a University of Exeter researcher, said in a news release.  This is the first use of this cutting-edge technology in fungal disease diagnosis and we hope it will keep more people alive. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people globally die of this infection each year. This technology has the potential to bring about a radical shift in medical practice around the world and will act as a paradigm for detection of other potentially fatal diseases."

Existing tests for pulmonary aspergillosis require taking tissue samples or fluid from the lungs of patients who display symptoms suggestive of the infection. The new procedure could enable clinicians to use a combination of non-invasive imaging strategies, like MRI and PET, to get an accurate picture of what is going on in the lung based on radioactive antibodies that identify infection sites. The test is currently being adapted for use in humans. 

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