New multi-modality contrast agents for highly precise imaging could be on the way

A new type of "multimodal" contrast agents able to work within a number of medical imaging modalities could be on the way. This development, first reported in the journal Academic Radiology, would spring from work now being undertaken by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"The goal of this work for me was to be able to create advanced methods for the treatment of disease, specifically cancer, that reduce the toxic effects that we see with our current treatments," said one of the researchers Kenneth Watkin, a professor in the department of speech and hearing science at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. "And to do that, I had to develop really, really, really small carriers.”

The tiny carriers that are being proposing would essentially pinpoint tumors like smart bombs going after a target. The transport system could potentially be nanoparticles of gadolinium oxide, Watkin said.

Gadolinium oxide is an excellent imaging agent, said Watkin, because of its superparamagnetic properties — "meaning that they work well within a magnetic resonance imaging machine." Also, it is an effective emitter of radiation sources thus making it suitable for neutron capture cancer therapy.

Among the most promising applications for using gadolinium oxide nanoparticles as a neutron capture therapy agent is in the treatment of brain tumors.

The researchers acknowledges, however, that it could be years before their work produces the actual ability to be used as clinical diagnostic or treatment methods.

"We have a lot of potential research directions ahead of us," Watkin said. "I think one of the directions this is going to take is exploring its use at the molecular level with various types of other high-resolution imaging systems. And if it's of interest for use within humans in the end, all of the pharmacological attributes of this will have to be explored. That is, its distribution in the body ... where do the nanoparticles go? What are its effects? How long does it last? All of those kinds of things are part of the preclinical work, before people can even consider using it."