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The hardware used for MPI is very different from MRI. MPI systems use changing magnetic fields to generate a signal from superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) nanoparticles. These fields are specifically designed to produce a single magnetic field free region. A signal is only generated in this region. An image is generated by moving this region across a sample. Since there is no natural SPIO in tissue, a signal is only detected from the administered tracer. This provides images without background. MPI is often used in combination with anatomical imaging techniques (such as CT or MRI) providing information on the location of the tracer.
Magnetic particle imaging combines high tracer sensitivity with submillimeter resolution. Imaging is performed in a range of milliseconds to seconds. The iron oxide tracer used with MPI are cleared naturally by the body through the mononuclear phagocyte system. The iron oxide nanoparticles are broken down in the liver, where the iron is stored and used to produce hemoglobin. SPIOs have previously been used in humans for iron supplementation and liver imaging.
Blood pool imaging
The first in vivo MPI results provided images of a beating mouse heart in 2009. With further research, this could eventually be used for real-time cardiac imaging.
By tagging therapeutic cells with iron oxide nanoparticles, MPI allows them to tracked throughout the body. This has applications in regenerative medicine and cancer immunotherapy. Imaging can be used to improve the success of stem cell therapy by following the movement of these cells in the body. The tracer is stable while tagged to a cell remains detectable past 87 days.
The SPIO tracer used in magnetic particle imaging is detectable within biological fluids, such as the blood. This fluid is very responsive to even weak magnetic fields, and all of the magnetic moments will line up in the direction of an induced magnetic field. These particles can be used because the human body does not contain anything which will create magnetic interference in imaging.