Metal-free MRI contrast agent could be safer for some patients

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To enhance the visibility of organs as they are scanned with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), patients are usually injected with a compound known as a contrast agent before going into the scanner. The most commonly used MRI contrast agents are based on the metal gadolinium; however, these metal compounds can be harmful to young children or people with kidney problems.

Researchers from MIT and the University of Nebraska have now developed a metal-free contrast agent that could be safer to use in those high-risk groups. Instead of metal, this compound contains organic molecules called nitroxides.

Furthermore, the new agent could be used to generate more informative MRI scans of tumors because it can accumulate at a tumor site for many hours without causing harm.

“This is an entirely organic, metal-free MRI contrast agent that would allow cancer researchers to start to think about how to image tumors in a dynamic way over long periods of time,” says Jeremiah Johnson, the Firmenich Career Development Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

Johnson is the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal ACS Central Science. The paper’s lead author is MIT graduate student Hung Nyugen. Other MIT authors are former postdoc Qixian Chen, postdoc Peter Harvey, graduate student Yivan Jiang, and professor of biological engineering Alan Jasanoff.

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