Seeing the chemical picture
An £850,000 project begins next month that could lead to a dramatically improved understanding of serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, septic shock and cancer.
During the four-year project a team of scientists, engineers and mathematicians at the University of Bath will undertake a fundamental revision of electron spin resonance imaging, a technique for body scanning.
They hope that electron spin resonance imaging will eventually take a 3D “snapshot” image of the chemical state of an organ such as the heart, which could lead to new treatments for serious illnesses.
At present instruments do not have the sensitivity or speed to do this but using the latest research into measurement techniques and data analysis could improve the sensitivity of the machinery by 100 times or more. This could, in turn, allow some images to be recorded 10,000 times faster, or with 10,000 times more spatial information.
Electron spin resonance imaging instruments work in a similar way to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) body scanners that are already widely used in hospitals. However, whereas MRI scanners use the magnetic properties of the protons in water to generate an image, electron spin resonance instruments use the magnetic properties of electrons.
This fundamental difference makes electron spin resonance more suited to imaging chemical processes than MRI. However, it also makes it technically much more difficult, and has so far restricted its use to the research laboratory.
The project is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.