A newly designed nanoparticle was developed by researchers at Imperial College London (ICL). It is claimed to boost the effectiveness of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning by specifically targeting receptors that are found in cancerous cells.
Essentially the nanoparticle is coated with a special protein which targets specific signals given off by tumours and when it locates a tumour it begins to interact with the cancerous cells. Such an interaction strips-off the protein coating, thus causing for the nanoparticle to self-assemble into a much larger particle so that it is more visible on the scan.
The above innovation was published as a new study in the journal Angewandte Chemie.  The study employed a cancer cells and mouse model to compare the effects of the self-assembling nanoparticle in a MRI scanning versus commonly used imaging agents. The study found that the nanoparticle produced a more powerful signal and created a clearer MRI image. The scientists claim the nanoparticle increases the sensitivity of MRI scanning and will ultimately improve doctor's ability to detect cancerous cells at a much earlier stage of development.
Professor Nicholar Long at ICL Department of Chemistry stated how the results showed some real promise for improving cancer diagnosis. "By improving the sensitivity of an MRI examination, our aim is to help doctors spot something that might be cancerous much more quickly. This would enable patients to receive effective treatment sooner, which would hopefully improve survival rates from cancer."
In addition, Professor Long stated - "MRI scanners are found in nearly every hospital up and down the country and they are vital machines used everyday to scan patients' bodies and get to the bottom of what might be wrong. But we are aware that some doctors feel that even though MRI scanners are effective at spotting large tumours, they are perhaps not as good at detecting smaller tumours in the early stages."
The newly designed nanoparticle provides an effective tool to improve the sensitivity of MRI scanning, and the scientists are now working to enhance its effectiveness. Professor Long continues to add - "we would like to improve the design to make it even easier for doctors to spot a tumour and for surgeons to then operate it. We're now trying to add an extra optical signal so that the nanoparticle would light up with a luminescent probe once it had found its target, so combined with the better MRI signal it makes it even easier to identify tumours."
Before testing and injecting the non-toxic nanoparticle into mice, the scientists had to make sure that it would not become so big when it self-assembled that it would cause damage. The nanoparticle was injected into a saline solution inside a petri dish and monitored for its growth pattern over a four hour period. Subsequently the nanoparticle grew from 100-800 nonometres.
Another researcher at ICL Department of Surgery and Cancer - Dr Juan Gallo - stated - "we're now looking at fine tuning the size of the final nanoparticle so that it is even smaller but still gives an enhanced MRI image. If it is too small the body will just secrete it out before imaging, but too big and it could be harmful to the body. Getting it just right is really important before moving to a human trial." Original article available here
Please Note the research was funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department of Health (DoH).
The above research continues to positively cite the 'synergy' between the importance of nanoparticle enhancement and it relation to earlier cancer diagnostics. Plus there has been a concern raised about the effect of nanoparticle toxicology. Therefore, DCN Corp strongly believes it can compete with the above injection based method. An alternative process would ensure for the gradual removal of cumbersome MRI scanning set-ups and replaced by a mobile nano bio-kit and scanning set-up. The scanning would be achieved by Raman handheld instruments. Going forward, if you and/or your colleagues are interested in making the above hypothesis reality - please ensure to contact the company as soon as practicably possible.
 Gallo, J., Kamaly, N., Lavdas, I., Stevens, E., Nguyen, Q-D., Wylezinska-Arridge, M., Aboagye, E. O. and Long, N. J. CXCR4-Targetd. MMP-Responsive Iron Oxide Nanoparticles for Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging Angewandte Chemie International Edition (2014)