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A Northwestern University study shows that coupling a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent to a nanodiamond results in dramatically enhanced signal intensity and thus vivid image contrast.

“The results are a leap and not a small one — it is a game-changing event for sensitivity,” said Thomas J. Meade, the Eileen Foell Professor in Cancer Research in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is an imaging agent on steroids. The complex is far more sensitive than anything else I’ve seen.”

Meade led the study along with Dean Ho, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Ho already has demonstrated that the nanodiamonds have excellent biocompatibility and can be used for efficient drug delivery. This new work paves the way for the clinical use of nanodiamonds to both deliver therapeutics and remotely track the activity and location of the drugs.

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