We are seeking partners to accelerate the development of the quantum probe for enhancing medical imaging scans through licensing or direct investment.
- A new method for aligning the magnetic spins of nuclei within molecules (hyperpolarise) without the need for highly specialised conditions has been developed.
- Current MRI machines are limited by the strength of the magnetic field. Hyperpolarised agents can increase the effective magnetic alignment and quality of images.
- Proof-of-concept studies have produced samples of suitable agents with a relatively high percentage of hyperpolarisation.
The detail and accuracy of images captured by an MRI scan is often limited by the strength of its magnetic field. Increasing the effective field strength of an MRI could improve images captured, but there are inherent problems to this approach.
The magnetic alignment of the hyperpolarised contrast agent introduced into the area of interest allows an MRI to capture significantly more detailed images.
The use of hyperpolarised contrast agents has been limited due to the challenges in effectively hyperpolarising agents, including the requirement to hyperpolarise agents on-site due to their relatively short lifetime. Current methods also require highly specialised conditions such as extremely low temperatures, catalysts or high electromagnetic fields. A more effective way to hyperpolarise agents without specialised conditions is needed.
University of Melbourne researchers, led by Professor Lloyd Hollenberg, have developed a method for hyperpolarising contrast agents by exposing the agent to a quantum probe prepared by shining light through a thin layer of synthetic diamond crystals. This method has advantages over current methods as it can be conducted at room temperature, and does not require extensive equipment. It is further not agent specific as the system can be tuned according to the agent being hyperpolarised.
The quantum method reduces the barrier for producing hyperpolarised contrast agents onsite. It may lead to widespread clinical use as it reduces the need to upgrade MRI machines to more expensive higher field strength machines.
Proof-of-concept demonstrations of the quantum method used a surface nitrogen-vacancy (NV) spin probe in diamond, and a hydrogen nuclear spin target ensemble in molecular polymethylmethacrylate. Relatively high polarisation levels of around 50% of polymer molecules on the surface of the quantum probe has been demonstrated.
Modelling of the system shows that the system is capable of producing hyperpolarised agents at volumes typically required for clinical use within a short period of time. The quantum system is currently being scaled up to demonstrate its feasibility in clinical settings.
The quantum hyperpolarisation method is the subject of a patent application that was filed on 17 August 2017.
Schematic representation of quantum hyperpolarisation. Nuclear spins with random magnetic orientation are subjected to a controlled interaction with atomic defects in diamond which aligns their spins and amplifies their magnetic signal. Picture: David Broadway