Ultimately, the technique, based on manipulating parahydrogen, the fuel of the space shuttle, is expected to allow doctors to learn far more about a patient’s condition from an MRI scan at lower cost, while also increasing the range of medical conditions that can be examined.
Publishing their work in the journal Science, the researchers explain that they have taken parahydrogen and, through a reversible interaction with a specially designed molecular scaffold, transferred its magnetism to a range of molecules. The resulting molecules are much more easily detected than was previously possible. No-one has been able to use parahydrogen in this way before.
Professor Gary Green, of the Department of Psychology and Director of the York Neuro-imaging Centre, predicted: ‘Our method has the potential to help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses in a wide range of medical conditions. The technique could ultimately replace current clinical imaging technologies that depend on the use of radioactive substances or heavy metals, which themselves create health concerns.’
The new method will also have major implications for scientific research because it radically reduces the time taken to obtain results using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance technology, the most popular method for obtaining analytical and structural information in chemistry.
Professor Simon Duckett, from the University’s Department of Chemistry and Director of the Centre for Magnetic Resonance, said: ‘We have been able to increase sensitivity in NMR by over 1000 times, so data that once took 90 days to record can now be obtained in just five seconds. Similarly, an MRI image can now be collected in a fraction of a second rather than over 100 hours. This development opens up the possibility of using NMR techniques to better understand the fundamental functions of biological systems.’
‘This technology has the potential to revolutionise both NMR and MRI methods in a short space of time,’ confirmed Dr Tonio Gianotti, Director and International NMR Research and Development Co-ordinator for Bruker BioSpin.
Developed over a number of years, the research has been supported by the University of York, the White-Rose Health Innovation Partnership, the EPSRC, the MRC, the BBSRC, the Spanish MEC (Project Consolider ORFEO (CSD 2007-00006), and Bruker BioSpin. A non-exclusive licensing agreement to develop the technology was signed in November 2008 with Bruker BioSpin.
Dr Mark Mortimer, Director of the University’s Research and Enterprise Office, added: ‘The rapid development of this research, from the chemistry bench through to measurement, opens up many exciting possibilities to extend this work. The York research team are now seeking partners to help turn this groundbreaking research into commercial and medical applications.’
York Neuro-imaging Centre details: www.ynic.york.ac.uk.