The evolution of molecular biology has enabled the exploration of novel sophisticated genedirected treating modalities for cancer. Suicide gene therapy - i.e. transfection of a so-called suicide gene that sensitizes target cells towards a prodrug - may offer an attractive approach to treat malignant tumors. For the development of effective clinical suicide gene therapy protocols, a non-invasive method to assay the extent, the kinetics and the spatial distribution of transgene expression is essential. This would allow investigators and physicians to assess the efficiency of experimental and therapeutic gene transfection protocols and would enable early prognosis of therapy outcome. Radionuclide imaging techniques like single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET), which can non-invasively visualize and quantify metabolic processes in vivo, are being evaluated for repetitive monitoring of transgene expression in living animals and humans. Transgene expression can be monitored directly by imaging the expression of the therapeutic gene itself, or indirectly using a reporter gene that is coupled to the therapeutic gene. Various radiopharmaceuticals have been developed and are now being evaluated for imaging of transgene expression. This review surveys the progress that has been made in the field of non-invasive nuclear imaging of transgene expression and focuses on the herpes simplex virus type 1 thymidine kinase (HSVtk) gene therapy approaches.
Keywords: suicide gene therapy, spect, scintigraphic imaging, hsvtr gene therapy
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