Research could lead to safer MRIs for patients

Lodespin Labs, a new company founded by UW researchers in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering with support from UW’s Center for Commercialization, may help solve a worrying problem in health care. Gadolinium, one of two common contrast agents (called tracers) used in angiograms and MRIs, can cause a potentially fatal disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis in people with kidney disease. The other tracer, iodine, cannot be used at all on people with kidney disease because damaged kidneys can’t handle the toxic load. Since more than 40 million people in the U.S. (14 percent of all Americans and 35 percent of those over 60) suffer from kidney disease, a solution is needed.

Enter Lodespin and the next big advance in medical imaging technology— magnetic particle imaging. It capitalizes on the magnetic properties of nanoscale iron oxide particles that can be injected into the bloodstream without punishing the kidneys. Instead, the particles are easily “digested” by liver cells.

The image produced by Lodespin Labs’ tracer is about 30 percent sharper than with traditional tracers. In addition, it requires far smaller amounts of tracer to produce the same image. The technology also may allow clinicians to use intravenous injections with a scanner to get the improved image quality instead of threading a catheter directly into the heart as is now done with an angiogram.

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