Netherlands-based Royal Phlips Electronics has released the first 3D imaging results obtained with a new imaging technology called Magnetic Particle Imaging, which uses the magnetic properties of iron-oxide nanoparticles injected into the bloodstream.

In a report published in issue 54 of Physics in Medicine and Biology, findings of the pre-clinical study show that the technology was able to generate unprecedented real-time images of cardiovascular activity, including arterial blood flow and volumetric heart motion.

The company, in a statement, said the results are a “major step forward in taking Magnetic Particle Imaging from a theoretical concept to an imaging tool to help improve diagnosis and therapy planning for many of the world’s major diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

“A novel non-invasive cardiac imaging technology is required to further unravel and characterize the disease processes associated with atherosclerosis, in particular those associated with vulnerable plaque formation which is a major risk factor for stroke and heart attacks,” said Valentin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Mount Sinai Heart Center, N.Y. “Through its combined speed, resolution and sensitivity, Magnetic Particle Imaging technology has great potential for this application, and the latest in-vivo imaging results represent a major breakthrough.”

During MPI, the magnetic properties of injected iron-oxide nanoparticles measure the nanoparticle concentration in the blood. A background signal is not present because the human body contains no naturally occurring magnetic materials visible to MPI. According to the report, nanoparticles appear as bright signals in the images after injection, therefore enabling the calculation of nanoparticle concentrations.

MPI combines high spatial resolution with short image acquisition times, lasting as short as 1/50th of a second, according to Philips.  The technology can capture dynamic concentration changes as the nanoparticles are swept along by the blood stream, representing a major step toward the development of whole-body systems for use on humans.

Technical challenges include scaling up the system related to the magnetic field generation required for human applications, as well as measuring and processing extremely weak signals emitted by the nanoparticles.