Finding early-stage cancers using novel contrast agents for enhanced MRI

Clark Colton

Cancer deaths could be dramatically reduced with improved medical imaging techniques for detecting early-stage tumors. While current techniques—MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography)—give detailed anatomical snapshots of the body, they don’t provide information accurate enough to clearly distinguish small, primary tumors from surrounding tissue. Conventional radiological approaches produce images based on bulk structural and anatomical features of the tissue. The degree to which a tumor can be visualized on conventional CT or MRI depends on how the tumor differentially scatters, absorbs, or emits radiation compared to the surrounding tissue and inherent background noise. Therefore, the current approach falls short of pinpointing specific tumors at a very early stage.

This project addresses the problems of sensitivity and specificity with a unique MRI contrast agent. The agent enhances selectivity for tumor tissue, thus increasing the chance for detection of an early-stage tumor. With early-stage detection and treatment the biggest factor in saving the lives of cancer patients, this concept has the potential to be a disruptive technology that will change the way imaging for cancer is practiced.

This project continues work, funded with a prior Deshpande Center Ignition Grant, in polymer-contrast-agent synthesis and characterization and in vitro studies.