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The micro PET scanner

The micro PET scanner:
The smallest way to measure metabolism

December 2002

Everyone knows you have to eat less to lose weight – but will a strict diet also shave a few years off your age? Many scientists believe calorie restriction is the key to healthy aging. "Nobody knows how calorie restriction works, but it is important to understand because it will give us clues into what aging is all about," said Roger McCarter, Ph.D., professor and deputy chair of physiology.

For years, scientists have linked chemicals known as "free radicals" with accelerated aging. The body produces free radicals when it uses oxygen to metabolize, or burn, food. Many scientists now speculate a low-calorie diet will lower metabolism – in turn lowering free radical damage.

The National Institute on Aging awarded Dr. McCarter a $1 million grant to see if that theory holds true. Dr. McCarter is using a high-tech piece of equipment called a positron emission tomography (PET) system and a team of rodents to complete his research.

"The micro PET scanner is the only way of measuring organ metabolic rate in small animals," Dr. McCarter said. "We are one of only a handful of institutions that have this capability."

The equipment provides a painless and astonishingly accurate snapshot of oxygen flow in the rodents’ liver, kidneys, heart and brain. Dr. McCarter is using it to compare the metabolic rate in a group of rodents on a very strict diet, to that of rodents eating at will. It only takes five to 10 minutes to get a scan of each organ; the rodent remains comfortably wrapped in a thermal blanket during the process.

Dr. McCarter is completing his work at the Health Science Center’s Research
Imaging Center. He should have the final results in three years.


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Updated 12/11/14