Jonathan Carrasco Hernandez, a postgraduate on Medical Physics from the Institute of Physics (IF) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, designed an original radiopharmaceutical to identify infectious processes using positron emission tomography (PET), a noninvasive technique of nuclear medicine.

The original idea that motivated this development was to solve infections affecting immunosuppressed people or patients who had underwent surgery. Based on an idea by Miguel Angel Avila Rodriguez, a researcher at the UNAM PET-CT Unit, Carrasco developed the new radiopharmaceutical, called 68Ga-Dota UBI 29-41, useful for combating bacterial infections, including hospital-acquired infections.

A radiopharmaceutical is a radioactive drug. It is marked with a positron-emitting radionuclide, positively charged antiparticles of the electron which are destroyed when found each other. All their matter is converted into energy that is released in the form of two photons emitted simultaneously in opposite directions and with the same energy.

When they are detected, it is possible to identify the line from which they were emitted and follow the route where the radiopharmaceutical accumulated to form images. In this way, infectious processes are detected.

The 68Ga-Dota UBI 29-41 is novel. “It is called third-generation, because it uses a very specific structure with two molecules: The first one is a vector agent that attaches directly to the site of infection, and the second is a molecule that serves as union bridge between the peptide that we use and the radioactive atom,” Carrasco Hernandez explained.

As it is radioactive, we did an advanced study with state-of-the-art software provided by the Faculty of Medicine, to make calculations on the radiation level, which is very controlled and does not cause damage,” he said.

Once they finished the tests they observed it was highly specific, they tested it on patients and it worked well. Currently, following a rigorous protocol, it is integrated to the radiopharmaceuticals given in the UNAM PET-CT Unit.

With his master’s thesis Carrasco Hernandez obtained one of a second price granted by UNAM Foundation, the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (COFEPRIS) and the Mexican Pharmaceutical Council, to the Pharmaceutical Innovation 2017.