MRI has the capacity to track chemical activity in real-time, but its sensitivity is simply not sufficient when using traditional scanning techniques. In order for scientists and clinicians to study the chemical transformations happening within tumors, organs, and other parts of the body using magnetic resonance, the imaging that the technology provides has to be improved significantly. Researchers at Duke University have come up with a way to “hyperpolarize” the molecules being tracked so that they appear big and bright in an MRI scanner while producing a signal long enough to conduct meaningful studies.
The technique relies on creating molecules with so called diazarines within them. Diazarines have a carbon atom bound to two nitrogen atoms, which themselves are double-bonded to each other.
Some details about the workings of the technology from Duke:
Using a simple and inexpensive approach to hyperpolarization called SABRE-SHEATH, in which the molecular tags are mixed with a spin-polarized form of hydrogen and a catalyst, the researchers were able to rapidly hyperpolarize one of the diazirine-containing molecules, greatly enhancing its magnetic resonance signals for over an hour.
Qiu Wang, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke and co-author on the paper, said this structure is a particularly exciting target for hyperpolarization because it has already been demonstrated as a tag for other types of biomedical imaging.
“It can be tagged on small molecules, macro molecules, amino acids, without changing the intrinsic properties of the original compound,” said Wang. “We are really interested to see if it would be possible to use it as a general imaging tag.”
The scientists believe their SABRE-SHEATH catalyst could be used to hyperpolarize a wide variety of chemical structures at a fraction of the cost of other methods.
“You could envision, in five or ten years, you’ve got the container with the catalyst, you’ve got the bulb with the hydrogen gas. In a minute, you’ve made the hyperpolarized agent, and on the fly you could actually take an image,” Warren said. “That is something that is simply inconceivable by any other method.”