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2010 Innovation Challenge Award

Jamu Alford

Device to improve MRI based molecular imaging

Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, formerly of The University of Western Ontario, Department of Physics and Astronomy


Dr. Jamu Alford has developed a device that dramatically improves MRI molecular imaging, aiding in the detection of diseases such as breast cancer.

While unsurpassed in quality for anatomical imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has had only limited success when it comes to differentiation of specific tissue types (e.g., diseased vs. healthy).

In order to differentiate a specific type of tissue from all other types, patients may be injected with pharmaceutical agents (contrast agents) that bind to molecules that are specific to the target tissue. For instance, one agent binds to folate protein, which is over expressed in malignant breast cancer tissue. Another binds to fibrin in blood clots. Many other agents are available or under development. Unfortunately, even with these advanced contrast agents, it is still very difficult to differentiate the tissues types.

Alford’s innovation, named the Delta Relaxation Enhanced Magnetic Resonance (dreMR) solves this issue by directly differentiating tissue containing the bound contrast agent from all others. It does this by acquiring several MRI images at different magnetic field strengths—something not possible with conventional MRI systems. These additional images provide enough information to allow one to differentiate the diseased tissues.

Because this approach relies upon fundamental physics, it can be universally applied to improve the effectiveness of all such contrast agents.

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