Over the past 30 years, magnetic resonance imaging has evolved into one of the most important imaging procedures in medical diagnostics. With a new approach based on the use of polarized gases and dissolved substances, it will in future be possible to produce even better quality images of the inside of the human body.
photo/©: Institute of Physics / JGU
At the same time, it is still necessary to overcome various obstacles before practical implementation can be considered. Except in the case of helium, it is not possible to maintain hyperpolarization over relevant periods. "This means we have to abbreviate the processes of polarization, administration, and detection so they can all be performed in no more than a minute at most," states Heil. Moreover, getting the hyperpolarized substances into the bloodstream without harming the body is difficult. In an attempt to resolve this problem, the research team is working with membranes, such as those used in heart-lung machines or for dialysis. "We also need to separate the reaction chamber from the treatment room," explains Dr. Peter Blümler, who is focusing on this aspect. "Perhaps we will also need several membranes to ensure that only the correct substances enter the blood." However, it seems that a solution to another problem may have already been found. While the polarization of helium or xenon can be achieved with lasers, Dr. Kerstin Münnemann of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research has shown in her widely acclaimed work that it is possible to induce magnetic polarization in other substances by means of reaction with parahydrogen. The three scientists intend to combine their expertise to create novel diagnostic procedures at the point where physics, chemistry, and medicine intersect.
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