Single scan finds blood clots anywhere in body thanks to new probe

21 Aug

A new type of probe that lights up blood clots in a single scan of the whole body

promises to significantly speed up the process of finding blood clots in patients. The probe has

been successfully tested in rats and should enter human trials later this year.

blood clot in rat
The new probe – shown here in a rat – should allow blood clots to be located with a single, whole-body PET scan.
Image credit: Peter Caravan

The new probe – developed by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston –

featured at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) earlier this


A blood clot is a serious, potentially fatal, medical condition. The faster a clot is found,

the better the chances it can be removed before it triggers a heart attack, stroke, or other

medical emergency.

If a person has a stroke because of a clot, the risk of another stroke increases hugely. The

clot can break up and cause more strokes. Also, treatments vary, depending on where the clot is

located. Some require surgery, while others may respond to clot-busting drugs.

Thus, in order to treat a blood clot, doctors have to find its precise location in the body,

and quickly. But current methods only allow them to look at one part of the body at a time, using

different types of scan.

For example, it may be necessary to have the patient undergo three different types of scan:

ultrasound to check the carotid arteries or legs, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the

heart, and computed tomography (CT scan) to examine the lungs.

“It’s a shot in the dark,” says Peter Caravan, an assistant in chemistry at MGH and associate

professor in radiology at Harvard Medical School. In order to locate the clot, the patient could

end up being scanned several times using different methods, so the team “sought a method that could detect blood clots anywhere in the body with a single whole-body scan.”

Prof. Caravan and his team had already found a peptide that binds specifically to fibrin – an

insoluble protein fiber that is present in blood clots.

For their latest work, they attached a radionuclide to the peptide. Radionuclides are small

doses of radioactive isotopes used in an imaging method called positron emission tomography

(PET). PET scans can highlight radionuclides anywhere in the body.

FBP8 most stable probe

The team tested many different combinations of radionuclides, peptides, and ways of linking

them together, to find the ones that were most likely to give the brightest PET images in blood


A total of 15 candidate blood clot probes were identified. After analyzing how well they bound to fibrin

in test tubes, the researchers then tested them in blood clots in rats.

The results showed how different test tube results can be compared with what happens in the

body, as Prof. Caravan explains:

“The probes all had a similar affinity to fibrin in vitro, but, in rats, their

performances were quite different.”

The researchers suggest the difference was because in the body, the probes are subject to

metabolism, which breaks down some of the probes, while others are able to withstand it.

A probe that the team calls FBP8, short for “fibrin binding probe #8,”

which has copper-64 as the radionuclide, was the most stable.

Now the big question, says Prof. Caravan, is “how well will these perform in

patients?” The team plans to start testing FBP8 in humans in the fall, and suggests it could be another 5 years

before it is approved for clinical use.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported new evidence that MRI may help predict breast cancer in some women.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD

Copyright: Medical News Today

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