The increased sensitivity means that patients receiving an MRI scan will have to take less of the contrast agent, substantially reducing the risk of harmful side effects. Most current agents contain the chemical gadolinium which, although non-radioactive, has been linked to a number of adverse health conditions including nephrogenic fibrosing demopathy, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis and advanced kidney failure.
This new agent also contains gadolinium, but in a different manner. The compound is bonded to carbon atoms and arranged in a nanodiamond to reduce its toxicity. Technology Review cites recent research suggesting that the body reacts well to the shape and does not adversely change gene expression.
"We've done this with many classes of nanoparticles and have never seen this extraordinary increase in sensitivity," said Thomas J. Meade, director of the Center for Advanced Molecular Image at Northwestern, in an interview with the Review.