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European Biopharmaceutical Review

The Advent of Nanoparticle Contrast Agents

In the area of cancer alone, molecular imaging of targeted contrast agents is likely to reduce the need for biopsies through cell phenotyping of tumours, enable monitoring to ensure the treatment has reached the target cells or a specific tumour, and, for patient follow-up, quantify the effect of chemotherapy on specific cell types (1). Additionally, nanoparticle contrast agents can be used in pathology specimens to assess tumour heterogeneity without the need for destructive testing. These new methods are likely to have flow-on effects for improving treatment efficiency and introducing personalised treatment plans.

The Rise of Computed Tomography

Computed tomography (CT) is a well-established clinical imaging methodology used to assess disease or injury. In fact, over 300 million CT scans are performed worldwide each year. CT imaging, which produces 3D X-ray images, was originally developed in the 1970s, and speed and resolution have both significantly advanced over the past couple of decades. However, this has now reached a plateau, and further advances in traditional CT are unlikely to have any dramatic clinical benefit.

Traditionally, typical contrast agents for CT have included iodine, barium, and, occasionally, gadolinium. Of these three, iodine has been the predominant contrast agent of choice for CT imaging over the past 40 years. Iodine provides excellent contrast between blood vessels and surrounding tissues and improves the diagnostic quality of CT images. Despite very few changes in contrast agents since the development of CT, the field of CT contrast agents is set for a shakeup with the advent of two new CT technologies that leverage the energy information contained within the X-ray photons. For the first time, dual energy and spectral CT introduce the ability to quantify and separate multiple materials, taking CT from a qualitative imaging modality for structural analysis to a quantitative diagnostic tool. The next generation of CT, with novel contrast agents, will be able to answer questions well beyond the basics of disease location and degree.

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Dr Hannah Prebble is a Clinical Applications Researcher at MARS Bioimaging, a manufacturer of preclinical spectral CT systems. Hannah has a PhD in spectral imaging of atherosclerosis, with a focus on imaging of microcalcification, intraplaque haemorrhage, and gold nanoparticles targeted to macrophages. She also holds an MSc in biochemistry and cell biology, with a focus on inflammation in macrophages. Hannah supports a number of researchers in areas varying from bone health and metal implant imaging, through to tumour imaging and soft tissue analysis.
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Dr Hannah Prebble
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