Targeted image contrast agent

The imaging agent comprises an ultra-small super-paramagnetic iron oxide particle (USPIO) that is attached to a sugar tag. The sugar tag acts like a postal code for the USPI:

  • delivering it to the site of inflammatory lesions in the blood brain barrier
  • selectively binding it to the protein produced there

The researchers have exciting experimental evidence showing that the imaging agent provides extremely sensitive imaging that is far superior to that obtained with existing imaging agents.

The invention, by providing a more advanced method of detecting damage to the blood brain barrier, could potentially provide much advancement for the diagnosis and monitoring of multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system.

Background

Contrast agents are widely used with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – these compounds increase the contrast between the area of interest and the background and in many cases have been found to improve sensitivity and/or specificity. Such agents operate either by:

  • specifically enhancing the signal that is produced

  • localising in a specific cell type or tissue

Typically, image contrast agents are either based on gadolinium complexes or super-paramagnetic iron oxide (known as USPIO), the latter of which is used for imaging lymph nodes. MRI is currently the preferred method of imaging the brain to confirm diagnosis and track disease progress for multiple sclerosis – there are 400,000 patients in the US alone. However, although existing contrast agents are clinically useful, it is known that conditions such as multiple sclerosis produce lesions that cannot be seen with conventional technologies – this shows there exists a clear need for the development of improved image contrast agents.

The Oxford invention

Researchers at the University’s Experimental Neuro-imaging Group, departments of Pharmacology and Chemistry have collaborated to develop a new imaging agent for MRI brain scanning, which targets lesions in the blood brain barrier.

The imaging agent comprises an ultra-small super-paramagnetic iron oxide particle (USPIO) that is attached to a sugar tag. The sugar tag acts like a postal code for the USPIO by:

  • delivering it to the site of inflammatory lesions in the blood brain barrier

  • selectively binding it to the protein produced there

The researchers have exciting experimental evidence showing that the imaging agent provides extremely sensitive imaging, that is far superior to that obtained with existing imaging agents.  The invention, by providing a more advanced method of detecting damage to the blood brain barrier, could potentially provide much advancement for the diagnosis and monitoring of multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system.

Commercial opportunity and patent status

This work is the subject of a granted European patent whilst the US patent is still in prosecution.

Oxford University Innovation is keen to talk to companies interested in developing the commercial opportunities for this technology. Request more information if you would like to discuss this further

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