Alexander Pines and his colleagues at UC Berkeley have discovered a remarkable new way to improve the versatility and sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging and the technology upon which it is based, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
"NMR encoding is exceptional at recovering chemical, biological, and physical information from samples, including living organisms, without disrupting them," says Pines, noting that MRI, a closely related technology, is equally adept at nondestructively picturing the insides of things. "The problem with this versatile technique is low sensitivity."
In their soon to be released paper in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging they explain how encoding and detecting NMR/MRI signals separately makes many otherwise difficult or impossible applications possible.
"For example, xenon can be dissolved in chemical solutions or in the metabolic pathways of biological systems, then concentrated for more sensitive detection. Other signal carriers can also be used for remote detection, including hyperpolarized helium gas for medical imaging or liquid oil or water for geological analysis. Since only the carrier reaches the detector, alternate detection methods, incompatible with the sample because they may be intrusive or require transparency, can also be used -- for example, optical methods that can detect the miniscule NMR signals from living cells."
Like Randall Parker, I too believe that the most interesting developments to watch are analysis instruments. While still in basic research mode, this latest laboratory breakthrough will slowly make its way into corporate and academic labs, greatly refining our basic understanding of human biology in years to come.
[Thanks to Kevin Keck and the Bay Area Futurist Salon for bring this to my attention]