The Norwegian Molecular Imaging Infrastructure (NORMOLIM) is a national infrastructure for biomedical and preclinical imaging and a node in Euro-BioImaging ERIC, the European research infrastructure for imaging technologies in biology and medicine.
NORMOLIM offers open access for Norwegian and European researchers with state-of-the-art equipment, high competence and long experience with MRI, PET, ultrasound and in vivo optical imaging with special focus on methods for molecular imaging in in vivo in animal models.
Imaging technologies are central to the biology and medicine of the future. They are important for creating new knowledge in biotechnology, molecular biology, physiology, understanding of disease processes and the development of new therapies. Methods for molecular imaging in vivo in animal models constitute an important link for the transfer of knowledge from biomedical basic research to new diagnostic tools, therapies and biomarkers that can improve patient treatment. Therefore, it is common to call these technologies and methods preclinical imaging.
Within such in-vivo imaging, there is rapid development of technology and methods. The equipment is expensive and with many advanced possibilities and applications, and it is therefore a great challenge to always be able to offer the researchers access to the best and most advanced imaging methods as well as the best knowledge and expertise for optimal adaptation to the users' various research questions and projects. With its dual role as national infrastructure and node in Euro-BioImaging ERIC, NORMOLIM is well equipped to meet these challenges.
NORMOLIM integrates the best environments in Norway for this type of infrastructure and is physically located at three sites: in Trondheim (NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology), in Oslo (Oslo University Hospital - Ullevål) and Bergen (University of Bergen).
We present here three examples of research at NORMOLIM carried out in 2022 - they are linked to new areas within cancer research (development of immunotherapy as a new and promising treatment method for many forms of cancer) and cardiac research (measurement of fibrosis in heart tissue as a new and promising diagnostic method for choosing the best treatment and monitor treatment response in several heart diseases):
1. Benefit of preclinical combined PET-MR imaging for immunotherapy:
The NORMOLIM site in Trondheim has in 2022 been very active in testing immuno-PET tracers in animal models. Such tracers attach selectively to immune cells and can be a useful tool for measuring and predicting the effect of immunotherapy in cancer treatment. The project is a collaboration between NTNU, UiT, UiB and the PET center at St. Olav's hospital and is a good example of the synergy of having PET tracer production and preclinical PET imaging in the same place. This research is also an example of the usefulness of combined PET-MR imaging in preclinical research. NORMOLIM has invested in this new technology at all three of its sites.
2. Benefit of preclinical in-vivo optical imaging for immunotherapy:
A study at the NORMOLIM site in Bergen (Kleinmanns K, McCormack E et al. Humanized ovarian cancer patient-derived xenografts for improved preclinical evaluation of immunotherapies. Cancers (Basel) 2022 Jun 23;14(13):3092) shows how in-vivo optical imaging may help improve the chances of successful immunotherapy of ovarian cancer. Immunotherapy has been proposed to strengthen the immune system and improve the prognosis of these patients. However, it is necessary to develop methods to find the right treatment for the individual patient (so-called personalized treatment / precision medicine). The published study showed how in-vivo optical imaging with labeled immune cells in an animal model with the implantation of cancer cells from patients provided new knowledge about the function and interaction between the tumor microenvironment and the immune system. The new method has also the potential to test different combinations of immunotherapy and other therapies and in general achieve better personalized treatment for the individual patient.
3. New MR imaging method for measuring stiffness/fibrosis in heart tissue.
At the NORMOLIM site in Oslo, an MR imaging method for determining tissue stiffness (so-called MR Elastography) is being developed, and is particularly aimed at non-invasive measurement of fibrosis in heart tissue, which is difficult as the heart is in constant motion. The site has previously established the Tissue Phased Mapping (TPM) technique and this is further developed to determine stiffness in heart tissue with high-resolution visualization of both diffuse and focal stiffness in the tissue. A first in-vivo study was conducted in 2022 and will be published in 2023. This new technique makes it possible to follow the development of cardiac fibrosis over time, e.g. response to drug treatments and investigation of genetically modified animal models.
Imaging technologies are core disciplines of tomorrows biology and medicine. They are important for enabling new knowledge in biotechnology, molecular biology, physiology, disease process, and new therapies.
The NORMOLIM infrastructure has been established to focus on imaging technologies and methods in the area of in-vivo molecular imaging; limited to in-vivo imaging in animal model systems (experimental models of disease and transgenic mice/rats). This research area is an important link for translation between breakthroughs in basic biomedical research and new technology and methods that can improve patient management and outcome and obtain a sustainable
NORMOLIM is a distributed infrastructure between three facilities (in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim) for molecular imaging at a high international level. All three have access to
a wide range of imaging modalities and technologies for in-vivo molecular imaging (MR, PET, ultrasound, in-vivo optical imaging etc.). These facilities have differences in focus regarding medical and biomedical research areas and differences in advanced methods, special technologies, special applications, special competence and scientific experience. NORMOLIM has
unified these facilities to provide a critical mass for enhancing their collective impact, and NORMOLIM has established a multi-site service package that fit a wide range of needs from national and international users.
A common trait for all imaging modalities is rapid development of new technology, methods and applications. With expensive and technologically demanding equipment, a key challenge is to help researchers and industry to have access to the best possible imaging tools at any time as well as the
knowledge and competence to tailor them to the users research questions and projects. NORMOLIM meets this challenge by providing open access to a state-of-the-art (and beyond) imaging infrastructure and advanced competence for optimal use of the imaging tools.