Researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH), the National Centre of Competence in Research Kidney.CH, and the Biomaterials Science Center of the University of Basel have now developed a novel x-ray contrast agent called XlinCA that can be used to make the capillaries in research animals much more visible in CT scans. Knowledge of the exact anatomy of the capillaries in humans and animals is crucial for basic research into the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular and other diseases.

Previously, contrast agents were added to polymerizing plastic resins before they were injected into the blood vessels of euthanized animals. However, it is very difficult to completely fill out the delicate capillaries in various organs with viscous resins. “Without years of experience using the right injection techniques, the capillaries are often only partially filled, or missing entirely. Up to a quarter of the resulting images are therefore unusable,” says Willy Kuo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Physiology of UZH. By using “XlinCA” instead of other contrast agents, up to 25% fewer animals would be needed for experiments, states Kuo.

Contrast agents for medical use in humans consist of small molecules and are relatively simple to produce. “A custom contrast agent for ex vivo use was significantly more difficult to synthesize, since it is made up of polymers—molecules bonded together in long chains,” says Bernhard Spingler, PhD, professor at UZH’s Department of Chemistry. XlinCA has several advantages over previously used x-ray contrast agents: It is easy to use and enables complete and uninterrupted vascular imaging. It also allows multiple organs or even whole animals such as mice to be examined at the same time.”

Read more from The University of Zurich and find the study in Chemical Communications.

Featured image: 3D imaging of the blood vessels of a mouse head using x-ray computer tomography and the newly developed contrast agent XlinCA. Courtesy Willy Kuo, University of Zurich