Positron emission tomography (PET) is used to non-invasively visualise and quantify cellular function and molecular processes in vivo. This enables better clinical decision making and health outcomes. PET is already used in clinical routine, for example in the treatment of cancer.
One of the crucial performance parameters of a PET system is its sensitivity. This determines, for example, the smallest tumour size that can be detected. In the last decade, the sensitivity of PET has been improved significantly by the introduction of time-of-flight (TOF) imaging. The resulting sensitivity boost is inversely proportional to the so-called coincidence resolving time (CRT). The best clinical TOF-PET systems available today have a CRT of about 200 – 300 ps.
If we could improve the CRT to about ~10 ps, PET could be transformed into a tool for personalised medicine in a much wider range of clinical applications. Real-time imaging of molecular processes in the human body would become possible, while the radiation dose and scan time could be reduced by an order of magnitude. This would truly unleash the potential of PET as a tool for personalised medicine, offering new possibilities in the management of cancer as well as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Unfortunately, the scintillation detector technology used in state-of-the-art PET scanners is fundamentally too slow to realise these new objectives.
PIZZICATO aims to develop a radically new PET technology based on superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors (SNSPDs) coupled to ultrafast cryogenic scintillators and to demonstrate, for the first time, that such detectors have the potential to enable ~10 picosecond PET. Following a successful completion of this proof-of-concept project, it is estimated that clinical PET devices based on SNSPDs can be developed in less than 10 years, which will benefit the health of citizens as well as the European medical device industry.