Use of Diamond-Based Polarizers Completely Transforms MRI Technology

The technology of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is going through a huge transformation—the nanodiamond enables the tumor tissue to be quickly detected and isolated in a better way from the surrounding healthy tissue.

Eyeing an advancement of the MRI technology through the joint project “DiaPol,” Fraunhofer IAF has partnered with the University of Ulm, the company NVision Imaging Technologies GmbH, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israeli Center for Advanced Diamond Technologies (ICDAT). The innovative technology provides significant opportunities: the highly accurate and rapidly available outcomes render it probable to tune the treatment of tumor tissues in the patient in a notably more effective manner than using earlier techniques.

Humans are most terrified by the uncertainty—cancer. A 2016 report from the Robert Koch Institute notes that the absolute number of new cancer cases in Germany has nearly doubled since the early 1970s. One of the critical factors is time because a timely and precise diagnosis can save human lives. Over the last few decades, the techniques for detecting strange-looking tissues in the body have constantly turned out to be more accurate. MRI is specifically gentle and effective for patients as it functions without the need for radioactive substances or harmful chemicals. Detailed, three-dimensional cross-sections of the human tissue can also be developed by using MRI.

In the case of classical MRI, magnetic fields are used to create high-resolution images. The human body is formed of 70% water, where each water molecule includes two hydrogen atoms with nuclei that are magnetic in nature. Nuclear spins give rise to the magnetic fields in these nuclei. To amplify and tune the tiny magnetic fields of the spins, a so-called polarisator may be used. Optimal tuning of the spins results in stronger MRI signal and more precise outcomes. Upon adding high-frequency pulses, specific atomic nuclei inside the human body can be excited resonantly, and hence can be evaluated as an electrical signal. Eventually, a program transforms the signals into three-dimensional images with higher resolution.

10,000 times more sensitive thanks to diamond-based polarizers

In the case of the innovative MRI process, the scientists integrated the classical technique with a nanodiamond polarisator. The nitrogen-vacancy centers intrinsic to a diamond have a vital role in the polarizer of the novel technique—the electron spins of these centers produce magnetic fields that could be transferred to other nuclear spins, thereby tuning them, or “polarizing” them. This process hyperpolarizes the external molecules or nanodiamonds. Then, they can be administered into the human body prior to the MRI scan, thus remarkably enhancing the imaging sensitivity. Being an expert in the domain of diamond nanotechnology, Fraunhofer IAF is involved in this area of the study.

Our tasks are the diamond’s optimization on the nanoscale and the incorporation of the nitrogen-vacancy centers,” elucidated Dr. Verena Zürbig from Fraunhofer IAF. The project coordinator and group leader for “Diamond Technology” is confident that “Compared to the conventional procedure, the diamond polarizers will significantly increase the MRI’s sensitivity.” The company NVision considers the new process to hold great potential: “Not only could it become possible to diagnose cancer early, but also to identify the cancer cell’s exact stage.”

As a material, diamond has some invincible benefits. For instance, the hyperpolarization by using diamond can be accomplished at ambient temperature, thereby allowing a considerably faster and cost-effective technique when compared to traditional processes, which mandate ultimately lower temperatures. One of the sub-goals of the study is the development of exceptionally tiny, mobile, and flexible diamond polarizers. This revolution allows rapid analysis and reduces the time taken for patients to obtain their results from many weeks to only a few days. By offering highly accurate measurements and a correlated enhanced treatment, the study hopes to bring respite to patients often affected by the uncertainty and fear due to cancer.

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