"The aim of the ILLUMINATING NERVES project is to develop and synthesize new imaging agents that eventually can be used for surgical guidance around delicate nerve structures. The applicants research group already has made a major contribution to the clinical field of surgical guidance by introducing a concept wherein a multimodal/hybrid, imaging agent is used to provide fully integrated preoperative 3D imaging, surgical procedure planning, and real-time surgical fluorescence guidance. Illumination of delicate anatomical structures like nerves will have a direct influence on the quality of life of patients and as such creates a new window of opportunities for surgical guidance and for the chemical development of hybrid imaging agents. To illuminate both somatic and autonomic peripheral nerves, imaging agents will be developed that bind to receptors on myelinating Schwann cells and/or accumulate in neurons. These different targeting concepts dictate the use of different scaffold molecules varying from targeted antibodies to modified neurotoxin proteins that act as bionanoparticles and viral capsids, each scaffold demanding different synthetic routes for functionalization. For this particular application, the visualization of small nerves, especially the fluorescent imaging contrast has to increase compared to conventional imaging agents. The applicant’s multidisciplinary track record the chemical and (bio)medical field, combined with his proven ability to bridge the gap between bench and bedside aids in the successful integration of synthetic chemical strategies with biomedical assays and in vitro/in vivo validation studies. Although possibly providing interesting imaging agent candidates suitable for optimization towards a future clinical translation, the project will mainly generate fundamental insight in the types of (hybrid) imaging agents that have potential for the surgical illumination of peripheral nerves."
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