Dual Contrast Agents May Allow for More Precise and Color-coded MRI Scans

Iqra Mumal MSc avatar

by Iqra Mumal MSc |

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, already important to both doctors treating patients and researchers conducting trials, might soon distinguish diseased and healthy tissue in differing colors, improving efforts to map and potentially diagnose and monitor diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

A method allowing for two contrasting agents to be visible on MRI scans, called Dual Contrast – Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting (DF-MRF), was developed by scientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Their study detailing the method,  “Dual Contrast – Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting (DC-MRF): A Platform for Simultaneous Quantification of Multiple MRI Contrast Agents,” was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

MRI contrast agents, injected into patient’s veins, are regularly used in clinical treatment and research studies. In fact, MRI has become an essential technology due its ability to provide detailed views of soft tissues or organs and its lack of ionizing radiation, making it safe for patients. Current techniques, however, are based on the use of a single contrast agent, which limits views.

“The method we developed enables, for the first time, the simultaneous detection of two different MRI contrast agents,” Chris Flask, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Imaging Resource Core at the School of Medicine, said in a press release.

Using two different agents is expected to better distinguish diseased and healthy tissue, helping physicians to better determine the extent of the disease, and features like its phenotype or characteristics.

The researchers made use of two contrast agents, gadolinium and manganese, that can be detected and independently quantified during MRIs. Gadolinium, in fact, is commonly used as a single contrast agent to look at a range of pathologies, including tumors, and vascular and cardiac abnormalities.

Manganese was chosen as the second agent because one of its characteristics, called relaxivity, differed from the relaxivity of gadolinium, which is necessary for distinguishing between the two signals. Relaxivity is a characteristic of chemicals that allows the emission of a signal that can be captured on MRIs.

“This multi-agent detection capability has the potential to transform molecular imaging, as it provides a critical translational pathway for studies in patients,” Flask said. “It also provides a unique imaging platform to rigorously study molecular therapies.”

As the field of molecular imaging has advanced, research has led to the production of MRI contrast agents that target proteins, cell receptors, and other molecules in the body. If this new dual contrast technique comes into use, the field will advance yet again. Studies of its use in living cells and tissues, however, are necessary.

“In this initial paper, we validated our new methodology, opening the possibility for numerous follow-on application studies in cancer, genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes,” Flask concluded.