Researchers at Binghamton University and Temple University have developed a new nanoparticle-based contrast agent for MRI imaging that could help physicians more accurately detect inflammation in the body, which is common to many diseases.

Chronic inflammation can ultimately cause several conditions including heart disease, according to Amber Doiron, research assistant professor in the biomedical engineering department at Binghamton University.

However, the new contrast agent—interpolymer complex-superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles—is meant to detect inflammatory diseases sooner while pinpointing where the inflammation is in the body via an MRI scan, she contends.

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“Currently, there are several contrast agents that are not necessarily targeted to any one thing—they essentially go where the blood flows, which can be useful in a number of diagnostic situations,” says Doiron. “Our contrast agent stays turned off until it arrives at an area of inflammation at which point it would turn on, indicating where inflammation is located.”

According to Doiron, the polymer coating enables the new MRI contrast agent “gives it the ability to have that off-on transition in the presence of inflammation.”

Under a two-year grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, Doiron and her collaborator developed the contrast agent that so far has been subjected to a number of bench tests and cell studies—the next step is animal studies.

“Magnetic resonance contrast agents that can be activated in response to specific triggers hold potential as molecular biosensors that may be of great utility in non-invasive disease diagnosis,” states a recent study published in Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces. “We developed an activatable agent based on superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIOs) that is sensitive to oxidative stress, a factor in the pathophysiology of numerous diseases.”

Doiron notes that the materials used for the new contrast agent are known to be biocompatible and she does not anticipate any negative side effects in terms toxicity or harm to human health.

“Obviously, all of that would need to be studied on a much more rigorous basis than we’ve done thus far,” she concludes. “In CT and some other modalities, they’re really trying to image inflammation and we think we’ve got something that’s really unique that could be paired with MRI.”

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