Magnetic resonance imaging is the leading imaging technique to detect disease without using radiation. MRI contrast or imaging agents aid MRI techniques to obtain tissue-specific images of the organs. However, the applications of MRI contrast agents are not effective for early detection of cancerous tumors because they are hampered by uncontrolled blood circulation time, low relaxation rate or sensitivity, and low specificity. Researchers have developed a new class of protein-based contrast agents (PRCAs) and an imaging methodology that provides robust results for the early detection of liver cancer and other liver diseases. The new technique can detect liver tumors that measure less than 0.25 millimeters. Lead study author Jenny Yang, professor at Georgia State University, in the US, said, "Liver cancers associated with high mortality rates and poor treatment responses are often diagnosed in the late stages because there is not a reliable way to detect primary liver cancer and metastasis at a size smaller than one centimeter. Most contrast agents are rapidly excreted from the liver, not allowing sufficient time to obtain quality imaging. Our new agents can obtain both positive and negative contrast images within one application, providing double the accuracy and confidence of locating cancerous tumors."
The researchers have shown proof-of-concept that this new method can be used to detect cancerous liver tumors at an early stage with high sensitivity. They have also demonstrated that these new agents better aid the imaging of multiple organs, including the kidney and blood vessels, in addition to the liver and tumors.
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.