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The novel contrast agent (grey solution in larger tube) was developed using nanodiamonds in a manganese base and provides clearer and more accurate MRI images of liver tumours at lower dosages

A team of scientists led by NUS Pharmacology Assistant Professor Edward Chow, Principal Investigator from the Cancer Science Institute in Singapore at NUS, has developed a novel nanodiamond-based contrast agent — a chemical “dye” — that can achieve more sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This will enhance the visibility of internal body structures and improve the visualisation of liver cancer tumours, contributing to better detection and treatment planning of liver cancer. The findings were published in Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine in April.

MRI is a medical imaging technique that involves the use of magnetic fields and radio waves to form detailed images of the human anatomy. It is commonly used for cancer diagnosis and to track patients’ progress after treatment. Contrast agents are generally given to patients to improve quality of the MRI imaging by changing the magnetic properties of the surrounding water molecules. This increases the magnetic differences between the water and the anatomy to be observed, hence enhancing the quality of the images obtained.

There are two modes of MRI, each of which requires the use of specific, different contrast agents. The contrast agents cannot be used together. The novel chemical dye that Asst Prof Chow’s team developed is a dual-mode contrast agent, meaning it can be used in both MRI modes. The team has also shown that the new chemical “dye” can provide a greater imaging contrast than existing contrast agents with lower dosages required. Liver tumours that cannot be seen without contrast agents become easily visible even at low dosages of the new compound.

“We are hopeful that this advancement in nanomedicine will lead to safer and more accurate diagnosis of liver cancer,” said Asst Prof Chow. “Moving forward, we plan to conduct further pre-clinical safety studies for our contrast agents, with the end goal being clinical implementation.” He added that the team will be looking into using their novel dye for imaging of glioma and ovarian cancer.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the NUS Comparative Medicine Imaging Facility and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Singapore Bioimaging Consortium.

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Asst Prof Edward Chow (far right) with members of his team

This article was first published on 4 May 2017 in NUS News. See press release.