Nanotheranostics 2022; 6(1):103-117. doi:10.7150/ntno.64141 This issue


Radiotheranostics - Precision Medicine in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Heying Duan, Andrei Iagaru, Carina Mari Aparici

Department of Radiology, Division of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

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Duan H, Iagaru A, Aparici CM. Radiotheranostics - Precision Medicine in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. Nanotheranostics 2022; 6(1):103-117. doi:10.7150/ntno.64141. Available from

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Graphic abstract

'See what you treat and treat what you see, at a molecular level', could be the motto of theranostics. The concept implies diagnosis (imaging) and treatment of cells (usually cancer) using the same molecule, thus guaranteeing a targeted cytotoxic approach of the imaged tumor cells while sparing healthy tissues. As the brilliant late Sam Gambhir would say, the imaging agent acts like a 'molecular spy' and reveals where the tumoral cells are located and the extent of disease burden (diagnosis). For treatment, the same 'molecular spy' docks to the same tumor cells, this time delivering cytotoxic doses of radiation (treatment). This duality represents the concept of a 'theranostic pair', which follows the scope and fundamental principles of targeted precision and personalized medicine.

Although the term theranostic was noted in medical literature in the early 2000s, the principle is not at all new to nuclear medicine. The first example of theranostic dates back to 1941 when Dr. Saul Hertz first applied radioiodine for radionuclide treatment of thyroid cells in patients with hyperthyroidism. Ever since, theranostics has been an integral element of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging. The more we understand tumor biology and molecular pathology of carcinogenesis, including specific mutations and receptor expression profiles, the more specific these 'molecular spies' can be developed for diagnostic molecular imaging and subsequent radionuclide targeted therapy (radiotheranostics). The appropriate selection of the diagnostic and therapeutic radionuclide for the 'theranostic pair' is critical and takes into account not only the type of cytotoxic radiation emission, but also the linear energy transfer (LET), and the physical half-lives. Advances in radiochemistry and radiopharmacy with new radiolabeling techniques and chelators are revolutionizing the field. The landscape of cytotoxic systemic radionuclide treatments has dramatically expanded through the past decades thanks to all these advancements. This article discusses present and promising future theranostic applications for various types of diseases such as thyroid disorders, neuroendocrine tumors (NET), pediatric malignancies, and prostate cancer (PC), and provides an outlook for future perspectives.