Nanodiamond-enhanced MRI: Year’s Best Biomedical Research?

A study by the Low-Field Imaging Laboratory at the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging is in the running for best biomedical research of 2017. STAT News has selected the lab’s work with nanodiamond-enhanced MRI for its bracket-style STAT Madness competition. Voting for the first round begins today.

Nanodiamonds—tiny, synthetic industrial diamonds—have attracted a great deal of attention because of the potential they offer for the targeted delivery of vaccines and cancer drugs as well as for other uses. Thus far, options for imaging nanodiamonds have been limited. With last year’s work, the Martinos-based team of investigators devised a means of tracking them noninvasively with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), opening up a host of new applications. They reported their findings in the online journal Nature Communications.

“With this study, we showed we could produce biomedically relevant MR images using nanodiamonds as the source of contrast in the images and that we could switch the contrast on and off at will,” says David Waddington, lead author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Sydney in Australia. At the time of the research, Waddington was working with Matt Rosen, PhD, in the Low-Field Imaging Laboratory at the Martinos Center.

“With competing strategies, the nanodiamonds must be prepared externally and then injected into the body, where they can only be imaged for a few hours at most. However, as our technique is biocompatible, we can continue imaging for indefinite periods of time. This raises the possibility of tracking the delivery of nanodiamond-drug compounds for a variety of diseases and providing vital information on the efficacy of different treatment options.”

The researchers noted several possible applications for nanodiamond-enhanced MRI. Among them: accurate detection of lymph node tumors, which can aid in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer, and exploring the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which can play an important role in the management of ischemic stroke. Because it provides a measurable MR signal for periods of over a month, the technique could also benefit applications such as monitoring the response to therapy.

The approach takes advantage of ultra-low-field MRI—itself a relatively new technology, first reported in Scientific Reports in 2015 by Rosen and Martinos Center colleagues.

“Thanks to innovative engineering, acquisition strategies and signal processing, the technology offers heretofore unattainable speed and resolution in the ultra-low-field MRI regime,” says Rosen, director of the Low-Field Imaging Laboratory, an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and the senior author of the current paper. “And importantly, by removing the need for massive, cryogen-cooled superconducting magnets, it opens up a number of new opportunities, including the nanodiamond imaging technique we recently described.”

We challenged Matt Rosen to explain nanodiamond-enhanced MRI in 30 seconds or less. Watch below to see how he did.