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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N032446/1
Title: Hyperpolarised Liquids for Magnetic Resonance
Principal Investigator: Owers-Bradley, Professor JR
Other Investigators:
Gadian, Professor DG Horsewill, Professor AJ
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Physics & Astronomy
Organisation: University of Nottingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2016 Ends: 31 December 2019 Value (£): 441,476
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Magnetism/Magnetic Phenomena
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
18 Feb 2016 EPSRC Physical Sciences Physics - February 2016 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy are two highly influential branches of the technique known as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). MRI has had a major impact in disease diagnosis; NMR spectroscopy provides a powerful method of investigating molecular structure, has proved invaluable in many areas of science and medicine, and is exploited widely in industry.

NMR detects the magnetic properties characteristic of certain atomic nuclei, most notably the hydrogen (1H) nucleus; other magnetic nuclei of interest include carbon (in the form of 13C), nitrogen (15N), and phosphorus (31P). Despite the great success of NMR, its lack of sensitivity imposes a number of constraints on the quantities of material that can be detected and/or on the spatial and temporal resolution that can be achieved. This has proved to be a major limitation, for example, in the use of NMR spectroscopy as a means of studying tissue chemistry in vivo.

The sensitivity of NMR is poor because, unlike compass needles, nuclear magnets (or spins) do not all point in the same direction when subjected to a strong magnetic field. This is because of the randomising effects of thermal agitation. As a result, the nuclei are very weakly polarised, and the detectable NMR signal arises from only a small proportion (typically about 1 in 100,000) of nuclear spins. It would clearly be an attractive proposition to increase the polarisation and hence tap into a larger proportion of the nuclei. Over the years, several strategies have been developed for generating high levels of nuclear spin polarisation. Here, we propose to develop and establish methods, based on the so-called brute-force approach, for achieving dramatic (up to 100,000-fold) gains in nuclear polarisation. The method is conceptually straightforward as it simply involves exposure of the material to very low temperature (as low as 0.01 K) and very high magnetic field (up to 14 T) leading to polarisation levels of more than 10%. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds because of the time taken for the polarisation process to build up, characterised by the relaxation time, T1. Reducing the thermal agitation by lowering the temperature allows a high degree of alignment of the nuclear spins with the magnetic field, but as the lattice vibrations and hence the magnetic fluctuations that cause the relaxation are frozen out, the relaxation time T1 can become excessively long. Our recent research demonstrates that we are now well placed to overcome this problem as we have discovered a new class of materials that greatly reduce the relaxation time at very low temperatures.

In the proposed research, we shall polarise selected agents at very low temperatures and high fields using this relaxation-assisted brute-force method. The frozen, polarised material will then be removed and rewarmed rapidly and dissolved using hot solvent for use in the liquid state. One of our aims is to find ways of storing the frozen, polarised material ready for rewarming and dissolution at a later time.

Our proposal details methods for overcoming the technical issues and for making the brute-force method competitive with alternative approaches to achieving high levels of polarisation. The proposed methods build on our own research over the last few years in which we have used nanoparticles to reduce the time required to polarise the nuclei, linked in to the research of our partners Bruker, who have successfully integrated 'brute-force' and rapid warming/dissolution technology. Our main aim is to achieve polarisation levels of at least 10% in a range of 13C-containing compounds. We envisage a wide range of biomedical applications, both in vitro and in vivo; prominent amongst these applications would be the use of hyperpolarised 13C-labelled metabolites for the investigation of tumour biochemistry and response to treatment.
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Organisation Website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk