How Nanotech Could Sharpen MRI Scans

Nancy Crotti

July 25, 2014

2 Min Read
How Nanotech Could Sharpen MRI Scans

British researchers have designed a self-assembling nanoparticle that they say can help doctors diagnose cancer earlier. 

The nanoparticle, developed by researchers at Imperial College London, is coated with a special protein that looks for specific signals given off by tumors, according to a press release from the college. When it finds a cancerous tumor, the nanoparticle sheds the protein coating, allowing it to self-assemble into a much larger particle that is visible on an MRI scan.

A study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie found that the nanoparticle produced a more powerful signal and created a clearer MRI image of the tumor. The study used cancer cells and mouse models to compare the effects of the self-assembling nanoparticle in MRI scanning against commonly used imaging agents.

The scientists still had to be careful that the non-toxic nanoparticle did not grow so large that it would cause damage. They injected it into a saline solution inside a petri dish and monitored its growth over a four-our period. The nanoparticle grew from 100 to 800 nanometers - still small enough avoid causing harm. 

The scientists continue to work on making the nanoparticle smaller but still large enough to give an enhanced MRI image. They hope to test their design in a human trial within three to five years.

Although MRI imaging has been used for years to detect tumors, the nanoparticle might help them find tumors when they are much smaller, thereby improving the chances at treatment, according to the researchers.

"We're now trying to add an extra optical signal so that the nanoparticle would light up with a luminescent probe once it had found its target, so combined with the better MRI signal it will make it even easier to identify tumours," said Professor Nicholas Long of the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London.

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Crotti

Nancy Crotti is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected].

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