An efficient contrast agent method for MRI imaging developed by Max Planck researcher Stefan Gloeggler raises hopes of being able to distinguish tumors from healthy tissue on the basis of their metabolic activity.
The ForTra gGmbH für Forschungstransfer of the Else Kroener-Fresenius Foundation (ForTra) and the European Research Council (ERC) are now providing funding to further develop the method for clinical patient studies.
From left to right: Dr. Sergey Korchak, Dr. Stefan Glöggler, and Dr. Henning Schroeder
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Cancer cells consume vast amounts of energy: They grow and divide much faster and more frequently than healthy body cells, which results in greatly increased energy requirements. To meet this increased demand, they change how they metabolize sugar. Through a process known as lactic acid fermentation, cancer cells convert the molecular “fuel” glucose into the body’s own metabolite pyruvate and finally into lactic acid (lactate). In clinical MRI studies, scientists are already using pyruvate as a biomarker – a biological characteristic – to identify tumors. Tumor cells produce a significantly higher amount of lactic acid than healthy cells. Stefan Gloeggler and his team are taking advantage of this feature for their MRI procedure.
“Using a special form of hydrogen during a chemical reaction we increase the nuclear spin signal of pyruvate by several thousand times. This signal amplification allows us to specifically observe the conversion of pyruvate into lactate – this way, we can use pyruvate as a contrast agent,” explains Gloeggler. He heads the research group NMR Signal Enhancement at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Sciences and the Center for Biostructural Imaging at the University Medical Center Goettingen.
Gloeggler’s team administered the signal-amplified pyruvate to mice carrying tumors. The researchers then observed in real time how pyruvate was converted into lactic acid. “Since this reaction is characteristic for cancer cells, we were able to clearly distinguish the malign tumors from healthy tissue in the rodents based on their metabolic activity,” says the chemist.
The research group aims to bring their developments into clinical applications as quickly as possible so it can benefit patients fast. To this end, Gloeggler’s team is receiving financial support from the ERC and ForTra.
The ForTra provides funding for two years. The Goettingen scientists will use this support to develop a first clinical prototype of a device that can amplify the signals of the metabolic contrast agents in doses usable in hospitals for tumor diagnostics. “Before we can apply the technologies clinically, however, regulatory approval is still required. We have already initiated the first steps, but it will take some time before the first human studies,” Gloeggler emphasizes.
MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Max-Planck-Institut für Multidisziplinäre Naturwissenschaften