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Nanoscale MRI improves precision detail pics of molecules

April 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body. It's particularly useful for the brain, lungs and heart. There's a new nanoscale MRI that is so precise it can pinpoint your molecules.

From the brain, to the heart, to the liver: MRIs can scan virtually every organ in your body. But there is an MRI like no other. It lets doctors see images on a nanoscale.

"Imagine that you want to see, for example, the workings of a cell," said Dr. Carlos Meriles, a professor of physics at the City College of New York.

The new machine could allow doctors to see a person's individual molecules or examine a strand of DNA.

"That kind of limit, you can't reach, you can't even think of reaching with standard technology, standard MRI technology," said Meriles.

The nanoscale MRI has a resolution up to 10,000 times better than a standard MRI.

To create the new MRI, scientists used defects in diamonds. When light is directed at them, they pick up the magnetic properties of nearby atoms in a cell.

"We have to think of atoms as little magnets," said Meriles.

Because the system uses light, a large, strong magnet isn't necessary. That could mean a safer scan for patients down the road.

The nanoscale MRI will likely be available in about 10 years.

In another new breakthrough using MRI technology, researchers with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation figured out a way to actually see pain registering on the brain using functional MRI, a technique that directly measures blood flow in the brain.

Stanford University scientists are also using high-tech imaging and tissue staining to reconstruct thin slices of the brain. Researchers say getting to see nerve tissue intact can help them identify disease processes such as autism and brain cancer.


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