New research could lead to enhanced MRI scans

Professor Malcolm Levitt of the University of Southampton is undertaking research into enhanced MRI scanning. Credit: University of Southampton

New research from the University of Southampton could lead to enhanced MRI scans, producing brighter and more precise images, and potentially allowing the detection of cancerous cells before they cause health problems.

Professor Malcolm Levitt of the University of Southampton, and co-workers, have been awarded a grant from the European Research Council of 2.8 million euros to support research into enhanced (NMR). NMR is the physical principle underlying MRI scanning, which is used routinely to detect abnormalities such as tumours. The long term aim is that this research will lead to a range of clinical applications, including the early detection of cancer.

NMR signals are inherently very weak. However, methods have been developed recently which lead to substances exhibiting a phenomenon called hyperpolarization, and which give rise to NMR signals that can be more than 100,000 times stronger than normal. The problem is that this incredible enhancement only lasts a short amount of time - up to one minute in favourable cases.

Research in Southampton has previously demonstrated the existence of quantum states that have very long lifetimes - up to half an hour in the case of the common substance nitrous oxide, often known as . The new research grant has been awarded for a project that involves a combination of the hyperpolarization effect with the long-lived quantum states developed in Southampton. The combination could give the best of both worlds - enormously enhanced NMR signals, which last long enough to perform an .

Professor Levitt says:

"This could have benefits for MRI Scanning. If you have strong signals, you can detect smaller amounts of substance that are less concentrated. For example, some substances naturally occur in a cell as part of the metabolism process, but occur in greater amounts in . Through this method, we should be able to detect when these substances are present and cells are potentially cancerous, earlier than ever before.

"Additionally, this method could allow us to detect oxygen levels in cells. When oxygen levels are depleted, this can mean that cells are metabolising more quickly, which can suggest that the cells are cancerous."

In addition to funding the research, the grant will allow for two new pieces of equipment to be installed at the University of Southampton. One will be a polarizer, which will be designed and constructed in Southampton, and which will generate substances exhibiting the hyperpolarization phenomenon. The second piece of equipment will be a NMR spectrometer equipped to perform small-scale MRI experiments, to test out the new concepts in preparation for performing experiments on a clinical MRI scanner.

It is hoped that this research, which will run over the next four years, will lead to the development of new tools for clinicians to detect metabolic or anatomical abnormalities in the body.

Related Stories

'NMR on a chip' features magnetic mini-sensor

date Feb 19, 2008

A super-sensitive mini-sensor developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology can detect nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in tiny samples of fluids flowing through a novel microchip. The prototype ...

NMR on a microscale

date May 12, 2009

( -- The technique well known from its use in MRI scanning - actually based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) - can now also be applied to extremely small samples thanks to an ingenious combination ...

Scientists discover new method for studying molecules

date Nov 17, 2010

Researchers at Queen's University have discovered the method for studying oxygen in large molecular systems. The findings will help in the study of proteins, DNA, RNA and other molecular structures.

Hyper-SAGE boosts remote MRI sensitivity

date Oct 09, 2009

A new technique in Magnetic Resonance Imaging dubbed "Hyper-SAGE" has the potential to detect ultra low concentrations of clincal targets, such as lung and other cancers. Development of Hyper-SAGE was led ...

Transforming medical diagnosis with new scanning technology

date Mar 26, 2009

A new technology which dramatically improves the sensitivity of Magnetic Resonance techniques including those used in hospital scanners and chemistry laboratories has been developed by scientists at the University of York.

Recommended for you

New strategies against rare, fatal lung syndrome

date 3 hours ago

Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome (HPS) patients suffer symptoms including albinism, visual impairment, and slow blood clotting, but what makes some versions of the genetic condition fatal is that patients with some ...

How a newborn baby sees you

date 11 hours ago

A newborn infant can see its parents' expressions at a distance of 30 cm. For the first time researchers have managed to reconstruct infants visual perception of the world.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.