This past summer, I had the pleasure to conduct research under the supervision of Dr. Rajapakse in his radiology laboratory within the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. This amazing learning experience was made possible by the generous funding of the Louis H Castor, M.D., C’48 Undergraduate Research Grant from the College Alumni Society. Dr. Rajapakse’s research has a large focus on osteoporosis, an age-related condition that often causes debilitating and sometimes even lethal fractures. The current imaging modality used to diagnose osteoporosis, dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, is only able to detect structural anomalies and not sensitive enough to detect functional changes. Therefore, my project aimed to develop and test a new functional imaging methodology based on 18F-NaF PET/CT that would be more sensitive to age-related bone metabolic changes and therefore lead to earlier detection of osteoporosis. Because vertebral fractures are one of the most common and deadly fragility fractures, my study focused on the spine.
I sectioned 139 participants’ vertebrae on PET/CT images using the operator guided computer software PMOD (PMOD Technologies LLC, Switzerland) and calculated the standardized uptake values (SUV) of the radiotracer NaF. A negative correlation was found between SUV and age of participants, consistent with findings reported in the literature, which validated the accuracy of 18F-NaF PET/CT imaging as a means for osteoporosis detection and SUV of NaF as a suitable biomarker for evaluation of bone metabolism.
Through this research experience, I learned a lot of valuable computational, statistical, analytical, and communicational skills. I gained much insight into the field of radiology as well as the field of research. I also gained experience writing and presenting about my research. It was great to learn about concepts and skills that went beyond the typical classroom, and these skills will certainly help me learn even more in the future. Overall, I am very thankful to my mentor and sponsors for this great, educational experience.