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Photoacoustic Technique Improves GI Tract Imaging

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A new, noninvasive technique combining photoacoustic imaging, a nanoscale contrast agent, and PET should provide much-improved functional imaging of the intestine, according to a paper published this month in Nature Nanotechnology.

Jonathan F. Lovell, PhD, senior author of the article, said tests of the new technique on mice look promising:

We could potentially induce a paradigm shift that allows for much more routine examination of the intestine function. That would really benefit overall health.

Dr. Lovell is assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. He was quoted in a news release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, which was also involved in the research.

Key to the technique is a contrast agent using a new family of nanoparticles. They contain bright dyes that show up well on photoacoustic images. The contrast agent consists of frozen micelles containing napthalocyanine dyes, which the researchers call nanonaps. The nanonaps withstood the conditions of the stomach and intestines and avoided absorption into the body. As the agent works through the gastrointestinal tract, “We can actually see the movement of the intestine in real time,” Dr. Lovell said.

The researchers said the technique should lead to better diagnosis and treatment of small bowel bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and other intestinal disorders. Weibo Cai, PhD, an associate professor of radiology, medical physics, and biomedical engineering at Wisconsin-Madison, said he hoped the nanonaps could be tuned to look for disease-related markers and could also be used for therapeutic purposes.

“It is everything I would hope for in an imaging agent,” said Dr. Cai, a co-author of the Nature Nanotechnology article, “and it is safe since we use FDA-approved agents to make these nanoparticles. That is why I am so excited about this. These are the promising first steps.”

The technique also involves PET, which can penetrate more deeply than photoacoustic imaging and can image the entire body. Combined with the photoacoustic images, PET can show the intestine in relation to the entire body. “The two imaging techniques work well together and get us all of the information that we need,” said Dr. Cai.

Related CME seminar (up to 12.5 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Abdominal & Pelvic Imaging: CT/MR/US (all-new release)

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