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Automation of a Positron-emission Tomography (PET) Radiotracer Synthesis Protocol for Clinical Production

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The development of new positron-emission tomography (PET) tracers is enabling researchers and clinicians to image an increasingly wide array of biological targets and processes. However, the increasing number of different tracers creates challenges for their production at radiopharmacies. While historically it has been practical to dedicate a custom-configured radiosynthesizer and hot cell for the repeated production of each individual tracer, it is becoming necessary to change this workflow. Recent commercial radiosynthesizers based on disposable cassettes/kits for each tracer simplify the production of multiple tracers with one set of equipment by eliminating the need for custom tracer-specific modifications. Furthermore, some of these radiosynthesizers enable the operator to develop and optimize their own synthesis protocols in addition to purchasing commercially-available kits. In this protocol, we describe the general procedure for how the manual synthesis of a new PET tracer can be automated on one of these radiosynthesizers and validated for the production of clinical-grade tracers. As an example, we use the ELIXYS radiosynthesizer, a flexible cassette-based radiochemistry tool that can support both PET tracer development efforts, as well as routine clinical probe manufacturing on the same system, to produce [18F]Clofarabine ([18F]CFA), a PET tracer to measure in vivo deoxycytidine kinase (dCK) enzyme activity. Translating a manual synthesis involves breaking down the synthetic protocol into basic radiochemistry processes that are then translated into intuitive chemistry "unit operations" supported by the synthesizer software. These operations can then rapidly be converted into an automated synthesis program by assembling them using the drag-and-drop interface. After basic testing, the synthesis and purification procedure may require optimization to achieve the desired yield and purity. Once the desired performance is achieved, a validation of the synthesis is carried out to determine its suitability for the production of the radiotracer for clinical use.

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