Space shuttle fuel increases nuclear MRI sensitivity, reduces acquisition time

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Scientists at the University of York in England have developed a new MRI technique by manipulating parahydrogen, the fuel of the space shuttle, that is expected to allow doctors to learn far more about a patient's condition from an MRI scan at lower cost while increasing the range of medical conditions that can be examined. The research is published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Researchers have taken parahydrogen and, through a reversible interaction with a specially designed molecular scaffold, transferred its magnetism to a range of molecules. The resulting molecules are much more easily detected than was previously possible, according to Professor Gary Green, from the department of psychology and director of the York Neuroimaging Centre.

"Our method has the potential to help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses in a wide range of medical conditions," Green said. "The technique could ultimately replace current clinical imaging technologies that depend on the use of radioactive substances or heavy metals, which themselves create health concerns."

The new method will also have major implications for scientific research because it radically reduces the time taken to obtain results using nuclear MR technology.

Professor Simon Duckett, from the University's department of chemistry and director of the Centre for Magnetic Resonance, said they have been able to increase sensitivity in NMR by more than 1,000 times so data that once took 90 days to record can now be obtained in just five seconds. Similarly, an MRI image can now be collected in a fraction of a second instead of more than 100 hours.

"This development opens up the possibility of using NMR techniques to better understand the fundamental functions of biological systems," the authors wrote.