New Signaling Method Developed

Their new method makes more of the body's chemistry visible by MRI, said James B Warren, Duke Professor of chemistry at Duke.
Standard MRI and the functional MRI used for brain imaging enlist the hydrogen atoms in water to create a graphic display in response to magnetic pulses and radio waves. But a huge array of water molecules are needed to pull that off.

"Only one out of every 100,000 water molecules in the body will actually contribute any useful signal to build that image," Warren said. "The water signal is not much different between tumors and normal tissue, but the other internal chemistry is different. So detecting other molecules, and how they change, would aid diagnosis."

The Duke team has been able to see these other molecules with MRI by "hyperpolarizing" some atoms in a sample, adjusting the spins of their nuclei to drastically increase their signal. This creates large imbalances among the populations of those spin states, making the molecules into more powerful magnets.

Unlike normal MRI, hyperpolarization and a technique called "dynamic nuclear polarization" (DNP) which was used for this research, can produce strong MRI signals from a variety of other kinds of atoms besides water. Without hyperpolarization, detecting signals from atoms besides water is exceedingly difficult because the signal size is so small. But "these signals are strong enough to see, even though the molecules are much more complex than water," Warren said.

The Duke group is evaluating the potentials for a number of possible signaling molecules, such as those involved in Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis and bladder control, said Warren, who has filed for a provisional patent.; Source: Duke University