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New contrast agent works for six different imaging studies

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | January 26, 2015
A transmission electron microscopy
image of the contrast agent
Photo credit: Jonathan Lovell
Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo have developed a contrast agent that can be detected by CT, PET, photoacoustic imaging, fluorescence imaging, upconversion imaging and Cerenkov luminescence imaging. However, a machine that integrates all of those modalities does not exist yet.

"In an ideal world, you can imagine that if you just get one injection and get imaged one time, that would certainly really speed up things," Jonathan Lovell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the university, told DOTmed News.

Additionally, it would provide the physicians with a much clearer picture of the patients' organs and tissues. The researchers conducted mouse experiments and found that CT and PET provide the deepest tissue penetration, and photoacoustic imaging shows blood vessel details.
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The contrast agent is composed of an "upconversion" core that glows blue when hit with near-infrared light, and an outer fabric made up of prophyrin-phospholipids (PoP) that wraps around the core. Each element of the agent makes it suitable for the different modalities.

The core is made of sodium, ytterbium, fluorine, yttrium, and thulium. Ytterbium is dense in electrons, which makes it good for CT detection. The PoP wrapper has biophotonic qualities that make it optimal for fluorescence and photoacoustic imaging.

The researchers are planning to conduct more studies in the near future to determine the safety of the contrast agent. They did note that it doesn't contain cadmium, which is a toxic metal that can potentially cause harm to patients.

If they prove that it's safe, they plan to study how the different modalities might be able to provide different pieces of information about detecting cancer cells. It might hold the potential to show physicians where tumors begin and end.

But before all of that can happen, the technology has to catch up. Lovell said that there has been a lot of interest in bimodal imaging, including PET/CT, but that "hypermodal" imaging isn't on everyone's radar yet. He hopes that their findings will spur the development of that technology.

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