March 26 (HealthDay News) -- A new method of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can better detect molecular changes inside the body that could signal health problems such as cancer, say Duke University chemists.
MRI uses hydrogen atoms in water to create images in response to magnetic pulses and radio waves, but the process requires a huge number of water molecules.
"Only one out of every 100,000 water molecules in the body will actually contribute any useful signal to build that image," Warren Warren, a professor of chemistry, said in a Duke news release. "The water signal is not much different between tumors and normal tissue, but the other internal chemistry is different. So detecting other molecules, and how they change, would aid diagnosis," Warren added.
The Duke team used a technique called dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) to produce strong MRI signals from a variety of atoms other than water.
"You thus have a signal that, at least transiently, can be thousands or tens of thousands times stronger than regular hydrogen in MRI. It lets you turn molecules you are interested in into MRI light bulbs," Warren said.
The study appears in the March 27 issue of Science.
SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 26, 2009