Dianne and Irving Kipnes, well-known Edmonton philanthropists, are outstanding leaders in advancing research and medical care in Alberta. In 2008, Dianne and Irving Kipnes made a $5 million gift to create an endowment with the Alberta Cancer Foundation to fund the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences. Dr. Frank Wuest, originally from Germany, joined the University of Alberta and the Cross Cancer Institute as the first Chair. In December 2021, Dr. Wuest was also named Chair, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry – Oncology Department. Over the last 13 years, Dr. Wuest and his team have been advancing the concept of personalized medicine at the molecular level by designing and utilizing imaging to enhance diagnosis and treatment – with one clear line of sight, selecting the right patient, for the right treatment, at the right time.
Through Dr. Wuest’s leadership, particular attention has been given to the use of novel positron emission tomography (PET) radiopharmaceuticals and pre-clinical PET imaging technology – a technique used to observe metabolic and molecular processes in the body, and is often used for detecting cancer and other diseases. This process works by detecting pairs of gamma rays, which originate from the collision of a positron with an electron. A positron-emitting radionuclide is incorporated into a cancer cell-seeking compound to create a so-called radiotracer. The tracer is released into the patient’s body, and it is the accumulation of the radiotracers in certain tissues and organs that can be turned into a 3D image to reflect their distribution within the body. Simply put, this accumulation of radiotracers act as beacons to detect cancerous cells. The radiotracer is normally associated with a specific biological process, such as glucose uptake by cells, and can, therefore, be used to conclude information about tissue’s metabolic activity.
Dr. Wuest and his team have been pioneers in the development of novel chemistry techniques for molecular imaging, the validation of novel PET radiotracers, and PET imaging assays (a process of analyzing a substance to determine its composition or quality).
More recently, Dr. Wuest and his team have been able to guide the clinical translation of innovative imaging biomarker technologies to enhance patient care. The Wuest team has begun using novel radiotracers for clinical PET imaging of patients with neuroendocrine tumours, giant cell arteritis, and prostate cancer. Thanks to this clinical trial, supported by the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair, the Edmonton neuroendocrine tumour program is seeing improved diagnosis of cancer patients, and subsequent better selection of patients for targeted radiotherapy. This new approach is going so well that this novel agent is being produced twice per week and was introduced at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
In addition to various other radiopharmaceutical developments and studies, Dr. Wuest and his research team are working on molecular imaging of autotaxin (ATX), an enzyme thought to be associated with chronic inflammation, including cancer. In collaboration with Dr. David Brindley and Industry partners, the research team developed radiotracers for the molecular imaging of this enzyme, which may make an impact on the treatment of breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Additionally, the team continues to study the effects of anti-inflammatory drugs and ATX inhibitors on radiation-induced fibrosis.
Dr. Wuest and his research team will be continuing their innovative and cutting-edge radiopharmaceutical science in 2022. Their primary goal this year is to establish a radiotherapy research program using alpha- and Auger- electron emitters to improve cancer treatments in Alberta. The team is particularly thrilled about the opportunity to advance and implement the promise of theranostics (an approach that combines cancer diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities into a single agent) by building a complementary radiotherapy program to their existing imaging biomarker program.
The Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences was the foundation for Dr. Wuest and his research team’s creation of the highly successful and productive imaging biomarkers research program. As Irv Kipnes states, “These are areas of science that nobody else, or very few, are following. There is a need for this, and the government can’t do it all. It has to be filled in with the rest of us.”
Dr. Wuest is the Director-at-large of the Society of Radiopharmaceutical Sciences and has been published more than 180 peer-reviewed articles and contributed to 10 book chapters and monographs.