Nuclear research is changing the face of medicine

Mitch Klenner’s research in nuclear medicine could help eradicate certain cancers in the future

While it’s easy to dream about the future of health; the possibilities of eradicating diseases and making lifespans longer are even now being debated in the news. Predicting our own futures? That’s a little trickier.

Mitch Klenner certainly wouldn’t have imagined himself working at ANSTO, since he started out his career doing everything but nuclear medicine. During his Bachelor of Chemistry at Curtin University, Mitch worked in environmental analytical chemistry and forensics before obtaining a PhD in photophysics.

“During my PhD, I collaborated with a researcher at ANSTO, flew to Sydney and fell in love with the place,” Mitch says.

Working with RANASPR

Now he’s a postgraduate researcher at ANSTO working on something called RANASPR. “I don’t want to scare anyone, but it stands for Rhenium Activated Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution for Pyridinyl Radiofluorination … that’s why we just say RANASPR!” Mitch laughs.

RANASPR deals with imaging agents, attaching a fluorine-18 radioisotope to molecules that locate cancers and disease in the body. While fluorine-18 helps trace the movement of molecules, it can be hard to attach, so Mitch uses the metal rhenium like a glue to better link the molecules and radioisotopes, before detaching the rhenium.

“It is possible to develop nuclear medicines that couldn’t be made before,” he says. Plus, the implications are huge. “The making of new nuclear medicine means that future nuclear medicine could detect almost any cancer or any disease quickly and efficiently, and then eradicate it.”

There’s more to nuclear medicine than cancer treatments

While eliminating cancers is the focus of the research, RANASPR could teach us a lot about how our bodies work on a molecular level. By tracing the movement of molecules in real time, we could learn in-depth cellular information, like where different neurotransmitters are located.

“Its potential is unbelievable; you could edit DNA so diseases are cured, increase brain function or muscle mass,” he says.

There’s no roadmap for new discoveries

Being at the forefront of new discoveries sounds exciting, but the reality is a lot of guesswork and the occasional failure. “Noone has ever solved this problem before, so a Google search won’t help you!” he says. Wrong decisions are an unavoidable certainty, but one wrong move may mean deteriorating molecules or samples that have taken weeks or months to create. But for Mitch, the successes make it all worthwhile.

“A successful result means that you’re one step closer to helping the world. I never thought I’d be making nuclear medicine, and now I’m absolutely passionate about it.”

– Eliza Brockwell

Mitch’s path to nuclear medicine:

> > Bachelor of Chemistry, Curtin University

> > Forensic Chemist, ChemCentre

> > PhD in Photophysics, Curtin University

> > Postgraduate researcher, ANSTO

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Reef obsession at ANSTO
Mitch nuclear medicine

“A successful result means that you’re one step closer to helping the world. I never thought I’d be making nuclear medicines, and now I’m absolutely passionate about it.”

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Photos: Grant Turner

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