Hyperpolarized Carbon-13 Imaging Is Coming to the Martinos Center

Yi-Fen Yen, Director of Hyperpolarized Imaging at the Martinos Center

The MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging has received NIH funding to purchase a carbon-13 polarizer for translational and clinical metabolic imaging research. The instrument will be part of a new initiative in Hyperpolarized Imaging Program directed by Yi-Fen Yen, assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and an investigator in the Center.

Hyperpolarized carbon-13 imaging is an emerging functional imaging technique with a broad range of applications in animal models, including in cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, placental imaging and cardiac research. Early clinical trials in humans are also under way in North America and Europe with studies focusing on prostate cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, and heart diseases.

The Center’s new hyperpolarizer will provide 4 to 5 orders of magnitude boost in signal enhancement of 13C-labeled metabolites, which are often used as exogenous contrast agents in studies such as the above. The instrument will generate doses for both animal and human injections. The injected hyperpolarized 13C substrate and its downstream metabolic products, produced in vivo, are distinguishable on magnetic resonance (MR) spectra. Thus their spatial distributions can be mapped by 13C MR spectroscopic imaging, allowing in vivo detection of disease-altered enzymatic reactions and metabolic pathways within only a few minutes.

Purchase of the instrument will be made possible by a $1.9-million High-End Instrumentation Grant recently awarded by the National Institutes of Health. The C13 polarizer will be the first in New England, adding new capabilities to the Center and enabling novel metabolic imaging and new discoveries for years to come.