Posted on 21 November 2016
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are two extremely important techniques which harness the magnetic properties of nuclei with applications ranging from molecular structure determination to human imaging. However, in many situations the applicability of NMR and MRI are limited by inherently poor sensitivity and insufficient nuclear spin lifetimes. To overcome these limitations the multidisciplinary team utilised the Signal Amplification by Reversible Exchange (SABRE) approach to create a magnetic resonance probe that was over 14000 times more sensitive than that typically observed on a standard hospital MRI scanner. Subsequent manipulation of the nuclear spins by radio frequency pulses allowed storage in the long lived singlet state. Importantly, this probe could then be removed from the magnetic field where it was created, stored anywhere in the laboratory before being transported back into the magnet where its strong signals can be observed. This meant that molecular probes that would be undetectable under standard conditions were still visible even 15 minutes after their creation.
This significant improvement in sensitivity and lifetime could open the door to the real-time monitoring of metabolic processes in diseases such as cancer, heart disease and neurodegeneration. A significant feature of these molecular probes are that they stable outside of strong magnetic fields which means they could be easily delivered to the patient in a clinical setting. Additionally, as this research uses proton nuclei within the probes, instead of heteronuceli such as carbon or nitrogen, any currently installed hospital MRI scanner can record these measurements which may ensure a rapid uptake of this technique.