When someone suffers from a gastrointestinal disorder such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome, it's standard practice for doctors to take a look at the state of their small intestine. This is typically done by having them drink a rather unpleasant-tasting barium solution, and then submitting to x-rays, an MRI or ultrasound. According to scientists at New York's University at Buffalo, however, all of those imaging techniques have serious shortcomings. Their proposed solution? A stiff drink of nanojuice.
The "juice" consists of a non-toxic carrier liquid laced with suspended nanoparticles. Those particles, in turn, contain molecules of dyes known as naphthalcyanines. These molecules have to be introduced within the nanoparticles, as they otherwise won't disperse within a liquid medium, plus it keeps them from being absorbed through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream.
As the orally-ingested nanojuice enters the small intestine, pulses of near-infrared laser light are applied in the area, through the skin. The dye molecules absorb large quantities of that light, allowing the liquid to serve as a very effective contrast agent when imaged using photoacoustic tomography.
The technology has so far been tested on mice, with good results. In particular, it allows for unparalleled real-time viewing of functions such as peristalsis, the process in which food is moved through the intestines via muscle contractions.
Additionally, the researchers claim that it's safer than x-rays, more easily-accessible than MRI technology, and provides better contrast in the images than ultrasound. And no, there's no word on how the nanojuice tastes.
The research is described in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Other institutions taking part in the project include Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and McMaster University in Canada.
Human trials are planned to take place once the technique is developed further.
Source: University at Buffalo