Mechanism MRI amplifying agents explored

January 19, 2017 by Erik Arends, Leiden Institute of Physics
Credit: Erik Arends

Special amplifying agents can make MRI scanners and NMR techniques hundreds of times more sensitive. Leiden physicists have now found a method to test their efficiency. More sensitive MRI scans could for example improve our understanding of cystic fibrosis or Parkinson's disease.

MRI scanners are a useful tool for medical doctors to look inside the . It allows them for example to easily check for torn ankle ligaments or study lungs by having patients breath in xenon gas, while xenon is clearly visible on the scan. Sometimes however, the defect is so well hidden that the MRI scanner is not sensitive enough.

Mysterious collaboration

Leiden physicists research amplifying agents, which increase the sensitivity of MRI scans and NMR, with a method called dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP). Those agents collaborate with the substance that is actually scanned—like xenon—but how this happens exactly is still very unclear. Dr. Martina Huber and her research group have now developed a method to explore this mysterious collaboration. 'Nowadays scientists look for new DNP agents through trial-and-error,' says Huber. 'With our new method we can start to understand how agents work, and then we can eventually make much better predictions on which substances would be good agents.'


To research DNP at the molecular level, Huber studies them with extreme high-field Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR). With MRI itself they are of course invisible; otherwise they would cause noise instead of being a utility. To test their method, the researchers characterized the agent AMUPol, and published the results together with Prof. Marc Baldus' group (Utrecht University) in the journal PCCP.

In this specific case, the EPR signal is seventy times stronger with the use of an amplifying agent, like the researched AMUPol (top), than without (bottom). Credit: Leiden Institute of Physics

Rare proteins

MRI scans with a hundred times more sensitivity could for example detect rare proteins in the human body, enabling scientists to better understand why they stop functioning in patients with , Parkinson's, amyloidosis or Alzheimer's. The DNP method already proved to be highly successful by exposing many details in solid state physics NMR research.

Explore further: New method to catch notorious Alzheimer protein

More information: P. Gast, D. Mance, E. Zurlo, K. L. Ivanov, M. Baldus and M. Huber, 'A tailored multi-frequency EPR approach to accurately determine the magnetic resonance parameters of dynamic nuclear polarization agents: application to AMUPol', PCCP, 2017.

Related Stories

New method to catch notorious Alzheimer protein

March 16, 2016

Medical doctors see lumps of the protein A β-peptide in Alzheimer patients' brains. They are not sure however if this causes the disease, or if it's a consequence of the damage these proteins do on brain membranes. Resolving ...

New method can identify chemical warfare agents more easily

July 13, 2016

A new method for extracting, enriching and identifying chemical warfare agents from oils and other organic liquids could help government officials and homeland security protect civilians more effectively from their deadly ...

Rare childhood disease linked to major cancer gene

December 1, 2016

A team of researchers led by a University of Rhode Island scientist has discovered an important molecular link between a rare childhood genetic disease, Fanconi anemia, and a major cancer gene called PTEN. The discovery improves ...

High-precision magnetic field sensing

December 2, 2016

Scientists have developed a highly sensitive sensor to detect tiny changes in strong magnetic fields. The sensor may find widespread use in medicine and other areas.

Recommended for you

Wearable device measures cortisol in sweat

July 20, 2018

The hormone cortisol rises and falls naturally throughout the day and can spike in response to stress, but current methods for measuring cortisol levels require waiting several days for results from a lab. By the time a person ...

Researchers report two-faced Janus membrane applications

July 20, 2018

Named for the mythical god with two faces, Janus membranes—double-sided membranes that serve as gatekeepers between two substances—have emerged as a material with potential industrial uses. Creating two distinct "faces" ...

Chemists characterize the fatal fungus among us

July 19, 2018

Life-threatening fungal infections affect more than two million people worldwide. Effective antifungal medications are very limited. Until now, one of the major challenges is that the fungal cell wall is poorly understood, ...

Infrared sensor as new method for drug discovery

July 19, 2018

Using an infrared sensor, biophysicists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have succeeded in analysing quickly and easily which active agents affect the structure of proteins and how long that effect lasts. Thus, Prof Dr. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.