Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have made tiny particles that can be injected into the body, where they emit penetrating frequencies. This may provide a new way of making detailed images of internal body structures such as fine networks of blood vessels.
The new finding is based on the use of light-emitting particles called quantum dots. Near-infrared imaging for research on biological tissues, with wavelengths between 700 and 900 nanometers (billionths of a meter), is widely used, but wavelengths of around 1,000 to 2,000 nanometers have the potential to provide even better results, because body tissues are more transparent to that light.
The team succeeded in making particles that are orders of magnitude better than previous materials, and that allow unprecedented detail in biological imaging.
The quantum dots are so bright that their emissions can be captured with very short exposure times. This makes it possible to produce not just single images but video that captures details of motion, such as the flow of blood, making it possible to distinguish between veins and arteries.
Initial applications would be for pre-clinical research in animals, as the compounds contain some materials that are unlikely to be approved for use in humans. The researchers are also working on developing versions that would be safer for humans.