A team of researchers from Duke University have made a breakthrough by discovering a new class of molecular tags or molecular lightbulbs, capable of enhancing present day Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) signals incredibly by a 10,000-fold.
The MRI scanner basically scans the human body by applying strong magnetic fields and radio waves, creating detailed images of the insides of the body. This process causes the nuclei in the Hydrogen atoms to broadcast their location and provide an inside view of the body.
Over and beyond producing detailed images, now with this new groundbreaking discovery that is all set to enhance the capabilities of MRI, body chemistry or biochemical reactions that take place internally can be broadcasted too.
These newly discovered molecular tags also create detectable signals that can last for more than an hour. This enables it to record biochemical reactions that occur in the body as they happen in real time.
"With magnetic resonance in general, you have this unique sensitivity to chemical transformation. You can see them and track them in real time." said Thomas Theis, assistant research professor of chemistry at Duke and co-lead author on the paper.
These new class of molecules are also biocompatible and inexpensive to produce and thus, can be used widely for medical purposes. It will greatly help in monitoring the metabolic processes that happens in grave medical conditions such as heart diseases and cancer.
"This represents a completely new class of molecules that doesn't look anything at all like what people thought could be made into MRI tags. We envision it could provide a whole new way to use MRI to learn about the biochemistry of disease." said Warren S. Warren, senior author of the study.
Over a span of several years, scientists have been fruitlessly trying to "hyperpolarize" biologically significant molecules and convert them into magnetic resonance "lightbulbs.". That is, attempting to allow the smaller molecules to possess a resonance that gives them a stronger signal and thus, can be detected even when they are in limited numbers.
Theis and his team have now been successful in doing so.
Warren further added that the hyperpolarization methodology astoundingly develops 10,000 times more signal than they would have normally had, had they been magnetized in a usual, ordinary magnetic field.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances on March 25.