New MRI contrast agent tested on big animals

July 31, 2017, Institute for Basic Science
PEG-IONCs injected the contrast agent like gadolinium is injected, via intravenous bolus. The injection caused no obvious toxicity on nonhuman primates. Credit: IBS

The top causes of death worldwide, ischemic heart diseases and stroke, together with another major source of illness, that is cancer, require proper imaging of blood vessels. A team formed by the Center for Nanoparticle Research, within the Institute for Basic Science, in collaboration with scientists at Anhui Provincial Hospital and Seoul National University Hospital, have tested a new non-toxic contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) that could be superior to the current mainstream dye, gadolinium. Published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, this highly promising contrast agent was successful on dogs, rabbits and monkeys.

Contrast agents are often used to improve the visibility of radiology of soft tissues and internal body structures, especially in cardiovascular and cerebral diseases. The choice of FDA-approved MRI and MRA contrast agents is fairly limited and they all bear some drawbacks. Gadolinium is the most commonly used MRI contrast agent, but it leaves deposits in the bones and brain, and is toxic for patients with kidney problems. As an alternative, contrast agents based on are practically unused because of the difficult readability of the results. Unlike gadolinium, which appears as a white signal, iron oxide is difficult to distinguished from air, hemorrhage, calcification, metal deposition, and blood clots. HYEON Taeghwan, director of the Center for Nanoparticle Research explains: "Let's take the example of a MRI analysis of a brain with Alzheimer's: iron oxide in the blood vessels would appear as black and the amyloid plaques as gray. It is very hard to recognize the plaques from the background. For it is reason, the current iron oxide nanoparticles are not used anymore and we started to look for other options." This occurs because gadolinium is a so-called T1-type contrast agent, while the current iron oxide is classified as T2.

Previously, the IBS team designed ultrasmall T1 iron oxide nanoparticles (PEG-IONCs), proved the possibility to synthesize them in large quantities, and tested them on mice. Now their research has leaped forward: "Research on mice cannot directly translate to humans, so we wanted to test if these nanoparticles work on large animals, like dogs, rabbits and monkeys. Eventually, our goal is to be able to understand if they can become a new diagnostic tool for humans," comments Hyeon.

The PEG-IONCs contrast agent was used to dynamically follow an ischemia on the left side of a monkey's brain. After injecting PEG-IONCs (b) the details become clearer. Credit: IBS

To test the applicability of PEG-IONCs, the research team performed MRI and MRA on rabbits, beagle dogs, and .

With a small diameter and an unharmful coating, the PEG-IONCs boast several desirable features. PEG-IONCs' hydrodynamic diameter of about 12 nanometers is much smaller and more uniform than commercially available iron oxide nanoparticles. Moreover, in preparing IONCs, IBS scientists used safe components, such as oleic acid, oleyl alcohol, and polyethylene glycol (PEG), that are commonly employed in pharmaceutical formulations. Hematological and tissue compatibility studies in macaque monkeys revealed that PEG-IONCs are highly biocompatible. To give an example, most of the clinically available oxide-based MRI contrast agents, such as ferumoxide and ferumoxtran, have to be slowly infused to minimize the incidence of hypotension and other severe side effects. On the other hand, PEG-IONCs were administered trouble-free, like gadolinium.

Finally, after the successful use of PEG-IONCs in static MRA, the scientists conducted a more challenging dynamic imaging to see vascular flow patterns of cerebral ischemia (the cause of stroke) in dogs and monkeys. Cerebral ischemia is a disorder caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain and its early detection with MRI contrast agents is vital for survival of patients. In the experiment, images were taken at several time points, every 1.5 seconds after injection of the contrast agent to see the blood perfusion patterns in the brain. An occlusion in the middle cerebral artery was detected.

While further rigorous preclinical investigations are required, the current pilot studies on nonhuman primates clearly demonstrate a great potential of PEG-IONCs for next-generation T1 MRI contrast agent.

Explore further: Metal-free MRI contrast agent could be safer for some patients

More information: Yang Lu et al, Iron oxide nanoclusters for T 1 magnetic resonance imaging of non-human primates, Nature Biomedical Engineering (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-017-0116-7

Related Stories

Better insight into brain anatomical structures

June 15, 2007

Magnetic resonance imaging is a very effective method for revealing anatomical details of soft tissues. Contrast agents can help to make these images even clearer and allow physiological processes to be followed in real time. ...

Better Insight into Brain Anatomical Structures

May 29, 2007

Magnetic resonance imaging is a very effective method for revealing anatomical details of soft tissues. Contrast agents can help to make these images even clearer and allow physiological processes to be followed in real time. ...

Recommended for you

Optical nanoscope images quantum dots

January 23, 2018

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together ...

Quantum dot ring lasers emit colored light

January 22, 2018

Researchers have designed a new type of laser called a quantum dot ring laser that emits red, orange, and green light. The different colors are emitted from different parts of the quantum dot—red from the core, green from ...

0 comments

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.