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NMR Microscope Allows Doctors to Focus on Diseased Soft Tissue


Imagine what it was like to take a photograph of an object such as a tree, before the wide availablilty of zoom lenses. You would be able to make out the shape and the branches from a distance but you wouldn’t be able to see the smaller branches or leaves. Until recently, Doctors have been in a similar situation regarding NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) imaging of organs and other features deep within the body. Thanks to a new NMR microscope developed by Oxford Researchers, Doctors will in future be able to focus in with a magnification factor of around x100 on ’hot spots’ or areas identified as a potentially life threatening soft tissue disease such as cancer or an aneurysm in order to make a more reliable diagnosis in a more comfortable way for the patient.

The imaging of very small features within the human body using NMR has long been a desirable objective, not only because the images provided using current methods of PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanning are not detailed enough i.e. they do not allow images of organs or other features deep within the body to be created in enough detail, but also because they involve the use of unpleasant processes such as injecting opaque dyes and time restricted large dose levels of X-rays.

Researchers at Oxford University have developed a waveguide technology which permits the detailed examination of features located at its tip. The tapered pickup allows the collection of very localised signals whilst isolating them from surrounding objects resulting in the possibility of collecting very high resolution MRI data.

The simple, narrow, tapered pickup device basically works as a funnel for the electromagnetic fields used in NMR imaging, constricting and concentrating them down its bore such that the field strength at the tip of the device is significantly concentrated. In its simplest embodiments the concentration ratio determines the degree of field expansion produced. Waveguides with tips as narrow as 10 microns have been proposed, which would potentially magnify the field distribution presented at the tip by several hundred times.

"It is envisaged that this new technology is as significant to NMR imaging today as zoom lenses were to photography in the past. It will also help to make the process a much less daunting experience for the patient" stated Dr Robert Adams, a project manager for Isis Innovation Ltd the technology transfer company of Oxford University.

Kim Bruty | alfa

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