Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have found a way to make magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) multicolored to improve disease detection.

The current standard method, which has been implemented for the last 30 years, involves injecting one contrast agent into a patient’s veins to “animate” the images.

Now, for the first time, MRIs could enable simultaneous detection of two different contrast agents, according to Chris Flask, associate professor of radiology, biomedical engineering and pediatrics. He is also the director of the Imaging Resource Core at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

“This multi-agent detection capability has the potential to transform molecular imaging, as it provides a critical translational pathway for studies in patients,” said Flask.

One contrast agent could be used specifically to target diseased tissue, while the other shows healthy tissue, for example. This would provide instantaneous comparisons of how each agent is distributed in the same patient.

A paper, published in Nature Scientific Reports, validates the team’s method. The authors, which encompass 11 different departments at Case Western Reserve and include engineers, nurses, clinicians and basic science researchers, explain how two contrast agents¾gadolinium and manganese¾were detected and independently quantified during MRIs.

In the paper, they refer to this development as Dual Contrast – Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting (DC – MRF) methodology. If applied in clinical settings in the future, the multicolor MRI method could allow doctors to chart multiple characteristics of a patient’s internal organs in one MRI test, leading to quicker and more improved diagnoses.

The team is now beginning to investigate its potential use in a variety of practical applications, including follow-up studies with cancer, genetic diseases and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.