Researchers at the University of Urbino have developed a way to encapsulate magnetic nanoparticles inside blood cells, resulting in a more effective contrast agent for medical imaging.
Contrast agents are compounds that are used to increase the visibility of internal organs, blood vessels or tissue in the images generated by medical scanners. By doing so, they can help radiologists determine the presence and extent of a given disease.
At the present time, magnetic nanoparticle contrast agents are quickly excreted from the blood via the patient’s liver, limiting their application.
But since the new magnetic nanoparticles developed at the University of Urbin are captured inside the patient’s own red blood cells, they remain protected from the body’s excretion mechanisms for as long as 120 days, the typical lifetime of healthy red blood cells.
A key feature of the University of Urbino’s technology is that it could allow the preparation of relatively large volumes of blood loaded with the contrasting agent.
Now, the university researchers have joined forces with Philips Research, whose scientists will take samples of the blood and test its effectiveness in Philips scanners.
The two and a half year collaboration between the two outfits is expected to result in a more effective treatment of cardiovascular disease.
One way of treating heart rhythm disorders, for example, is a minimally invasive procedure known as radio-frequency ablation. During this procedure, a catheter is inserted into the patient’s heart and the tissue responsible for propagating abnormal electrical signals through the heart muscle is destroyed by heat from the tip of the catheter.
Medical imaging techniques are presently used to direct the procedure, which can take hours to complete. The images provide the means by which a cardiologist can guide the instrument through the body.
The researchers believe that injecting encapsulated magnetic nanoparticles into a patient’s bloodstream during such procedures could be used to highlight the volume of blood in the different heart chambers, providing invaluable assistance for the cardiologist.