Besides imaging anatomical details and tissue properties in-vivo, there is significant interest in quantifying metabolic activity to characterize organ function in humans. Information about cell metabolism is of key importance in assessing the state, progression and success of intervention in many diseases including disorders of the cardiovascular system and in cancer.
Among the diagnostic imaging modalities available today, Magnetic Resonance (MR) is the only non-invasive and radiation-free method for mapping metabolic activity in the living subject. The spatial and temporal resolution of the measurement is, however, hampered by a relatively low sensitivity of the underlying imaging principle. The limited sensitivity is of particular concern when imaging substances other than tissue water. For example, carbon containing substrates play key roles in cell metabolism and are central to producing energy in the life cell but are hardly accessible by MR imaging. The low sensitivity of MR is due to the fact that at only a small fraction of carbon nuclei are polarized at body temperature. At very low temperature near absolute zero, however, the degree of polarization can be significantly increased using so-called Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP) techniques. It has been shown that this hyperpolarized state remains preserved upon rapid dissolution of the compound for injection.
With recent break-through advances in dissolution hyperpolarization technology, it has become possible to enhance the MR sensitivity of relevant metabolic molecules to be administered in live subjects by more than 30’000-fold. Pilot studies have already indicated great potential of using hyperpolarized MR methods to study real-time metabolism in cardiovascular and oncology applications. It is the aim of the present project to translate the technology to humans and explore applications in various diagnostic fields.