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New class of molecular 'lightbulbs' illuminate MRI

Mixing of newly developed catalyst and special form of hydrogen


Duke University scientists have discovered a new class of inexpensive and long-lived molecular tags that enhance MRI signals by 10,000-fold. To activate the tags, researchers mix them with a newly developed catalyst (center) and a special form of hydrogen (gray), converting them into long-lived magnetic resonance 'lightbulbs' that might be used to track disease metabolism in real time.

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Duke University researchers have taken a major step towards realizing a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that could record biochemical reactions in the body as they happen.

In a published article about the study, the researchers report the discovery of a new class of molecular tags that enhance MRI signals by 10,000-fold and generate detectable signals that last over an hour. The tags are biocompatible and inexpensive to produce, paving the way for widespread use of MRI to monitor metabolic processes of conditions like cancer and heart disease in real time.

"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," said Warren S. Warren, the James B. Duke Professor and chair of Physics at Duke, and senior author on the study. "We envision it could provide a whole new way to use MRI to learn about the biochemistry of disease."

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (grants CHE 10-58727, CHE 13-63008 and CHE 14-16268).

Read more about this research in the NSF News From the Field story New class of molecular 'lightbulbs' illuminate MRI. (Date image taken: unknown; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Jan. 2, 2018)

Credit: Thomas Theis, Duke University

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