Health: Chemistry Breakthrough Sheds New Light on Illness

05/14/2013
Photo: Contrast dyes

Cells and tissue often outshine the contrast dyes used in medical imaging; © University of Copenhagen/Jes Andersen

From microscopes to MRI scanners, imaging technology is growing ever more vital in the world's hospitals, whether for the diagnosis of illness or for research into new cures. Imaging technology requires dyes or contrast agents of some sort. Now, Danish chemists have discovered a new dye and proved its worth against any of the dyes currently available.

Thomas Just Sørensen and Bo Wegge Laursen are chemists at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. In a series of publications in well-regarded scientific publications, they have shown that the aza-oxa-trangulenium dyes have the potential to outperform all fluorescent dyes currently used in imaging.

"Our dyes are ten times better, far cheaper and easier to use. The latter I believe, will lead to expanded opportunities and broadened use, by physicians and researchers in developing countries, for example", says Sørensen.

It might seem odd, but one of the central challenges when taking pictures of cells and organs, is to avoid noise. The agents that make it possible to see microscopic biological structures are luminescent, but then, so is tissue. Consequently, the contrast agent's light risks being overpowered by "light noise". Just as the dial and hands of a watch might glow-in-the-dark, tissue becomes luminescent when exposed to light. Tissue and other organic structures luminesce, or lights up, for 10 nanoseconds after exposure to light. The light-life of an ordinary dye is the same – 10 nanoseconds. But triangulenium dyes produce light for an entire 100 nanoseconds.

The long life of the triangulenium dyes means that an image can be produced without background noise. Furthermore, the extra 90 nanoseconds opens the possibility of filming living images of the processes occurring within cells, for example when a drug attacks an illness.

Medical image analysis departments currently devote an incredible amount of time to staining samples, because all samples must be treated with two agents. The use of triangulenium dyes necessitates only one dye. And in contrast with typical dyes, no specialized equipment is needed to see the dyes in tissue samples. A lens from a pair of polarized sunglasses and an ordinary microscope are all that are required.

COMPAMED.de; Source: University of Copenhagen