Researchers develop real-time, 'nanojuice'-enabled imaging method for gut

Photoacoustic tomography and nanojuice illuminating the intestine of a mouse--Courtesy of UB

Conventional imaging methods don't work so well in the gut, the site of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and Crohn's disease, among others. Researchers at the University of Buffalo say they have solved the problem, albeit in animal studies.

Using specially designed nanoparticles that contain a class of dyes known as naphthalocyanines, the team created "nanojuice" for patients (in this case mice) to drink. When the juice reaches the small intestine, the doctor hits the particles with a laser beam revealing a real-time image of the organ, according to a University of Buffalo news release.

"Conventional imaging methods show the organ and blockages, but this method allows you to see how the small intestine operates in real time," said University of Buffalo biomedical engineering professor Jonathan Lovell, and co-author of the Nature Nanotechnology article describing the findings. "Better imaging will improve our understanding of these diseases and allow doctors to more effectively care for people suffering from them," he explained in the news release.

The team administered the nanojuice in mice, but plan on improving the imaging method for human trials. They also want to use it to image other areas of the gastrointestinal tract, besides the gut, which is part of the 20-plus feet small intestine located between the stomach and large intestine.

The dyes are well known, but the researchers made them liquid friendly and safe for consumption; normally they can be absorbed into the blood stream, the news release says. Plus the process is noninvasive.

Given Imaging proved that noninvasive imaging of the small intestine is big business. For the company, and its PillCam SB for visualizing the small intestine (also known as the small bowel), was purchased by Covidien ($COV) for $860 million late last year. Also, Fierce 15 winner NinePoint Medical raised $34 million earlier this year to further develop its real-time organ imaging technology.

- read the news release
- read the abstract in Nature Nanotechnology

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