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New Multi-Modal Contrast Agents, A Boon For Medical Imaging

‘Treating brain tumors -- typically called glioblastomas -- is very difficult,’ Watkin said. ‘Irradiating them is really difficult because you alter all kinds of tissues in the brain. And getting little bubbles like this or other kinds of contrast agents into the brain is difficult because the holes that allow plasma and other substances to flow through the brain are very small -- about 25 nanometers. With such a small opening, ‘you've got to have something pretty tiny to get in there. So these little gadolinium oxide particles can be really useful.’

Watkin noted that another reason the researchers initially chose to investigate the effects of adding a dextran coating was because it makes it possible to ‘target’ the nanoparticle.

‘By that, we mean we put a ligand -- an organic substance, such as a monoclonal antibody -- on the outside that searches out in the bloodstream. Antibodies seek their antigens. So we target something to seek out a substance that's expressed by cells -- cancer cells, in my work. Cancer cells express particular antigens to which an antibody attaches itself. So, if we put the appropriate glioblastoma antibody on the end of a particle, as it passes through the bloodstream it will attach to the tumor cell.’

In experiments with other types of nanoparticles, Watkin has loaded the particles with cancer-fighting drugs such as Doxorubicin or Taxiter. He also is investigating using them to deliver genetic material such as RNA inhibitor.

Watkin acknowledges that it could be years before the work results in diagnostic or treatment methods used in clinical practices.

‘We have a lot of potential research directions ahead of us,’ he said. ‘I think one of the directions this is going to take is exploring its use at the molecular level with various types of other high-resolution imaging systems. And if it's of interest for use within humans in the end, all of the pharmacological attributes of this will
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