Biomedicines 9 (12) - [2021-12-03; online 2021-12-03]
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease affecting over 400 million people worldwide and one of the leading causes of death, especially in developing nations. The disease is characterized by chronic hyperglycemia, caused by defects in the insulin secretion or action pathway. Current diagnostic methods measure metabolic byproducts of the disease such as glucose level, glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), insulin or C-peptide levels, which are indicators of the beta-cell function. However, they inaccurately reflect the disease progression and provide poor longitudinal information. Beta-cell mass has been suggested as an alternative approach to study disease progression in correlation to beta-cell function, as it behaves differently in the diabetes physiopathology. Study of the beta-cell mass, however, requires highly invasive and potentially harmful procedures such as pancreatic biopsies, making diagnosis and monitoring of the disease tedious. Nuclear medical imaging techniques using radiation emitting tracers have been suggested as strong non-invasive tools for beta-cell mass. A highly sensitive and high-resolution technique, such as positron emission tomography, provides an ideal solution for the visualization of beta-cell mass, which is particularly essential for better characterization of a disease such as diabetes, and for estimating treatment effects towards regeneration of the beta-cell mass. Development of novel, validated biomarkers that are aimed at beta-cell mass imaging are thus highly necessary and would contribute to invaluable breakthroughs in the field of diabetes research and therapies. This review aims to describe the various biomarkers and radioactive probes currently available for positron emission tomography imaging of beta-cell mass, as well as highlight the need for precise quantification and visualization of the beta-cell mass for designing new therapy strategies and monitoring changes in the beta-cell mass during the progression of diabetes.