The study was conducted jointly by NYU's Department of Chemistry and the Department of Radiology at the NYU School of Medicine. The study is part of a collaborative discussion group between these departments called Molecular Imaging and Contrast Agents (MICA). Contrast agents are chemical compounds that enhance the ability of medical imaging techniques, such as MRI, to discriminate between different tissue types. MICA includes Chemistry Professor James Canary, radiologist Dr. Edwin Wang, and assistant chemistry professor Kent Kirshenbaum. Assistance for the study was provided by the University of New Mexico's Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at its Health Sciences Center.
The protein coats of viruses provide an attractive platform for tailoring the physical properties and functions of molecular assemblies because they contain a large number of chemically reactive groups organized in a very precise array. Other researchers have recently sought to enhance MRI capabilities through the use of similar large molecular assemblies by increasing the size, and therefore signal, of MRI contrast agents. They have also tried to use this terrain to facilitate "multi-modality," in which a set of imaging probes, such as those for both MR and optical imaging, are integrated.
The NYU researchers were able to show the attachment of a large number of gadolinium chelates--the chemical compound used in MRI contrast agents --on the surface of the viral particles. This resulted in the generation of a very intense signal when Wang imaged their samples in a clinical MRI scanner.