NVision leverages quantum technology to improve the accuracy of MRI imaging by a factor of 100,000 using existing machines.
A German start-up that greatly enhances MRI imaging could save lives by allowing doctors to see more quickly and accurately whether cancer treatments are working.
NVision’s “hyperpolarization” technology uses quantum physics to enhance the magnetic signal of molecules in the human body up to 100,000 times using standard MRI.
Using this technology, MRI images can show cellular changes at the metabolic level, giving us much more information than the tissue level, allowing us to determine whether a cancer treatment is working or whether a tumor has spread. can be revealed within days instead of months.
“Some patients don’t have time. One failure in treatment is almost a death sentence because there really isn’t enough time to change course,” CEO Serra Broche told Euronews Next. rice field.
NVision’s technology aims to turn MRI imaging into “a whole different ball game,” he said.
How does MRI work and what makes this technology different?
MRI uses the magnetic properties of water to identify where it is in the body and how it is affected by surrounding tissues. Water in blood looks different than water in muscle or skin, resulting in different magnetic signatures that create an anatomical image of the body.
This signal is very strong because we have a lot of water in our bodies. But what MRI lacks is in detecting other small molecules in the body, also known as metabolites, Brosh explained.
“Metabolism is life, it’s how we survive, it’s how tumors and cancers use energy to survive and grow,” Brosh explained. “What we are doing is turning MRI into a large-scale metabolic imaging device.”
Rather than making MRI machines stronger or more sensitive, NVision’s technology focuses on making the signals from these metabolites stronger and easier to read on existing machines.
The start-up chose the metabolite pyruvate, which is essentially a cancer-favorite sugar. What NVision does is take this sugar and manipulate the nuclear spin on its carbon atoms to enhance the molecule’s magnetic signal by a factor of 100,000 on a standard MRI.
“It’s these rotations on the atoms that MRI really captures,” said NVision CTO Ilai Schwartz. “The problem with MRIs is that most rotations don’t point in one direction, but when you rotate them all they work well together. Yes, they cancel each other out.”
“What we do with certain sugars is to steer all, or almost all of them in one direction,” he explained.
Sounds complicated? Imagine trying to count small toy soldiers scattered all over the floor. Counting is much easier when everything is in a straight line and orderly.
Kind of like Google Street View for cells
Not only does it make it easier for MRI to detect these signals, it also allows us to interpret more information from them.
One example of an additional layer of information is the difference between using Google Maps and Google Street View. On a map, roads are just lines. But if you zoom in and explore like Google Street View, you’ll see what it really looks like, what looks orderly, and what doesn’t.
It is very important to have metabolites visible on MRI images. This will allow medical professionals to track how the body is processing and where things are not working properly.
When pyruvate enters normal cells, some of it is converted to lactate, but only in small amounts. However, cancer cells produce much more lactic acid than normal. So finding this overproduction of lactate could give doctors the confidence to pinpoint tumors and see where they’re growing.
“We’re tracking sugars in real time as they enter cells and transform into other metabolites,” Brosh explained. “This is a whole new dimension that MRI can provide.”
Think of an MRI as a snapshot of a car in a parking lot. They’re stationary, so you know what they look like, but you know nothing about how they work. But when you give them fuel and watch them drive around, you can see that there’s a problem, which cars aren’t keeping their lanes, and which cars are speeding and posing a hazard. .
“That’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re fueling the cells and looking at how it’s used,” Brosh said.
Is this safe?
NVision prepares this ‘quantum sugar’ in its Ulm, Germany laboratory and purifies it to be safe for injection.
“These are all substances that occur naturally in the body and are injected under normal physiological conditions, so they are completely harmless,” said Anna Parker, NVision’s senior director of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) hyperpolarization. Stated.
A big advantage of MRI, he added, is that, unlike PET-CT scans and X-rays, which expose you to radiation, it’s harmless and can be examined as many times as needed without damaging it over time.
However, the polarizing effect of NVision technology only lasts for a few minutes, so it should be done immediately before the MRI scan.
All a healthcare professional needs to do is place a vial of NVision’s “quantum sugar” into the hyperpolarizer. The machine uses parahydrogen to supercharge the fluid within two minutes of her, after which it is ready to inject the patient.
According to NVision, some of the world’s leading cancer research centers, including Memorial Sloan Kettering in the US, MD Anderson and Mass General (Massachusetts General Hospital), and University College London, Cambridge and ETH Zurich in Europe, have They are trying out the technology. The first systems will be purchased and delivered in the first quarter of his 2024.
Alzheimer’s disease as well as cancer
General Electric has developed a competing hyperpolarization technology that requires very low temperatures, unlike the NVision, which is already in use but is also more compact.
The German start-up therefore wants to quickly get hundreds of thousands of patients to use its technology, following the “Nespresso model” of providing both a polarized machine and a kit for injection (equivalent to a coffee pod). We hope to be able to scale to for all patients.
At the moment, NVision’s primary target is cancer, but being able to trace metabolism on images could help to identify heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and even rheumatic diseases long before symptoms become apparent. The company says it may be able to detect disease. .
“I think all these diseases are preceded by metabolic changes,” Brosh said.
NVision is also exploring how the technology can help see how new organs are taken up after transplantation, and how it can be used as a powerful chemical analysis tool using NMR spectroscopy. . Simply put, analyzing chemical fingerprints could help scientists identify mixtures of unknown molecules.
“Because it is the backbone of many types of scientific research, we hope that it will also enable entirely new ways of doing NMR spectroscopy and chemical analysis,” said Parker.