Fluorine boosts MRI scans

A compound developed at Durham University could improve the detection of cancer through MRI scans and reduce the need for biopsies.

Researchers at Durham University have created a chemical compound which could enhance the ability of MRI scans to identify the extent of diseases such as cancer and reduce the need for intrusive biopsies.

The EPSRC-funded group designed the compound, which contains fluorine, to be administered to a patient by injection before a scan. The fluorine reacts with different levels of acid in the body, highlighting tumours in the resulting scan.

Prof David Parker of Durham University’s Department of Chemistry said: ‘There is very little fluorine present naturally in the body so the signal from our compound stands out. When it is introduced in this form it acts differently depending on the acidity levels in a certain area, offering the potential to locate and highlight cancerous tissue.’

This innovative use of fluorine allows measurements to be taken quickly enough and to be read at the right frequency to be used with existing MRI scanners, while being used at sufficiently low doses to be harmless to the patient.

According to the researchers, the development of the compound is a first step, and extensive laboratory tests need to be carried out before it can be used on patients. They believe the technique will help diagnose diseases such as breast, liver or prostrate cancer and could be used in MRI diagnosis within 10 years.

Durham University has filed a patent on this new approach and is looking for commercial partners to help develop the research.