The heart of matter

Technology that could unlock the secrets of molecular structures by boosting the effectiveness of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) analysis is to be commercialised in the UK.

Oxford Instruments will build the world’s first NMR spectroscopy device based on Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation (DNP) technology following a licensing deal between the UK company and US medical systems giant GE Healthcare.

DNP-NMR is significantly more sensitive than conventional NMR, opening the way for enhanced research in areas requiring detailed molecular analysis, Oxford Instruments claimed.

NMR uses strong magnetic fields to produce a high energy state in the nuclei of material, causing them to emit photons that provide information about the sample. Its best-know application is MRI medical scanning.

In the DNP process the sample to be analysed is irradiated at low temperatures and in the presence of a strong magnetic field. It also requires the addition of free radicals – molecules containing at least one unpaired electron – to the sample.

According to Oxford Instruments, DNP-NMR produces a far better signal-to-noise ratio than conventional NMR spectroscopy, which is restricted by its insensitivity to certain nuclei.

Notable among these are carbon-13 and nitrogen-15, which can both yield significant information on molecular structure but respond poorly to non-enhanced NMR.

The UK company’s superconductivity division has acquired the exclusive licence to the in vitro intellectual property rights of GE Healthcare’s DNP technology.

DNP has been under development by GE Healthcare for some time, and has been extensively tested in the lab by the US medical systems group.

Oxford Instruments claimed that its expertise in cryogenics and magnets would allow it to develop DNP-NMR technology for commercial application in areas such as drug discovery and development and biochemistry.

The licensing deal follows a spate of recent activity by the UK company in the NMR sector. This includes the launch of a compact 800MHz magnet with active shielding to contain its field and a 600MHz magnet that does not require liquid cryogens to cool it.

The company claimed both developments would make NMR technology more widely available.

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