The two biggest challenges in the management of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) are: the lack of sensitive, disease-specific imaging techniques for the detection of earliest - and therefore potentially reversible - stages of SSc as well as the need for effective and specific anti-fibrotic therapies.
In this interdisciplinary project we apply PET-/SPECT-CT in different representative animal models of SSc using radiotracers which target pathophysiologic key molecules of SSc. This allows the in vivo visualization of important pathogenic mechanisms such as apoptosis, microvasculopathy, inflammation, and fibrosis. PET/SPECT-CT scans are compared with current gold-standard techniques, such as HRCT or 18F-FDG-PET, and with established markers on tissue level. Upon validation in animal models of SSc, the novel radiotracers can be translated into clinical application for the early diagnosis of organ involvement and for the prediction and monitoring of drug responses.
Additionally, in a novel therapeutic approach, we immunize different SSc animal models against potential key molecules of SSc pathophysiology such as IL-1, IL-6, IL-13, or NGF, and compare the anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects with those of non-vaccine-based therapies.