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Graphene Contrast Agent May Be Safer, Better

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Researchers at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, say they’ve developed a better, safer, and more cost-effective MRI contrast agent using graphene nanoparticles.

The nanoparticles in the new study derive their contrast properties from trace amounts of manganese. “Manganese toxicity has only been reported following long-term exposure or at high concentrations resulting in neurological symptoms,” according to a study on the research published Thursday in PLoS ONE. Graphene—sheets of carbon one atom thick—so far appears to be relatively nontoxic.

On the other hand, gadolinium, which is used in most current MRI contrast agents, can have potentially harmful, even fatal, side effects, such as nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. The Food and Drug Administration has ordered warnings about its use in certain patients with kidney disease.

Balaji Sitharaman, PhD, an assistant professor in the Stony Brook biomedical engineering department, has led the researchers working on the new contrast agent. In comparison with gadolinium-based agents, he said:

A graphene-based contrast agent can allow the same clinical MRI performance at substantially lower doses.

Dr. Sitharaman was quoted in a Stony Brook news release. His research indicates that the new contrast agent is more effective as well as safer than gadolinium-based agents.

“The technology will lower health care costs by reducing the cost per dose as well as the number of doses required,” Dr. Sitharaman said. “Further, since this new MRI contrast agent will substantially improve disease detection by increasing sensitivity and diagnostic confidence, it will enable earlier treatment for many diseases, which is less expensive and of course more effective for diseases such as cancer.”

Dr. Sitharaman earlier this year created a company, Theragnostic Technologies Inc., to develop the agent. The project has won a Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Award with an accompanying two-year grant to study preclinical safety and efficacy.

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Minutes before a scan, a patient is told that her radiology provider is more expensive than others and may cost her a higher co-payment. How much higher? The “third-party intermediary” on the phone is not authorized to give her that information. Welcome to an all-too-common health-insurance nightmare. See our Facebook page for the frustrating details.

Related seminar: UCSF Musculoskeletal MR Imaging

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