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New contrast agents may be on horizon for better medical imaging

Research by scientists based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may lead to the development of a new breed of "multimodal" contrast agents that could work within a host of medical imaging platforms -- from ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) to magnetic resonance imaging and molecular imaging.

Use of these new agents may, in turn, significantly improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, according to Kenneth Watkin, a professor in the department of speech and hearing science and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

Watkin's findings, the result of work with former graduate student Michael McDonald, who is now completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, were published recently in the journal Academic Radiology.

"The goal of this work for me was to be able to create advanced methods for the treatment of disease, specifically cancer, that reduce the toxic effects that we see with our current treatments," Watkin said. "And to do that, I had to develop really, really, really small carriers.

"I got into this field -- which is really nanomedicine -- because my area of interest is imaging and head and neck cancer," he said. "And as I would do imaging studies, I would see the true devastation of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to individuals from a psychosocial and a body point of view. So I got to thinking, 'How could we treat head and neck cancers differently -- using fewer chemotoxins?' "

The tiny carriers Watkin and McDonald are proposing would, in effect, zero in on tumors in much the same way that smart bombs take aim at strategic targets.

Watkin's transport system of choice are nanoparticles of gadolinium oxide.

The best way to visualize these nanoparticles, Watkin said, is to think of them as "exceptionally tiny pouches." Or better yet, "like the trailer on a semi-truck. The deliverer is the targeting body and the trailer is the little shell that c
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Contact: Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
melissa@uiuc.edu
217-333-5491
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
7-Jun-2006


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