Press Releases

Entry from: 29.03.2016
Category: News, Press Releases

Transatlantic alliance for ultra-sensitive MR imaging with gas vesicles

Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) in Berlin-Buch and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena cooperate in the future for the development of the latest biosensors for usage related to personalized medicine and drug development. The interdisciplinary team of physicists, chemists and biotechnologists is working on a new type of contrast agents to achieve significant breakthroughs in MRI since novel read-out techniques allow to detect such sensors with about 3-million-fold increased sensitivity compared to conventional protocols that practically fail to visualize gas-filled sensors. To this end, the cooperation will be funded by the Human Frontiers Science Program with US$ 250,000 annually.

NMR and MRI measurements rely on strong superconducting magnets (pictured during a cryogen fill). Scientists at FMP are developping novel detection methods that go far beyound the sensitivity that can be obtained with such magnets alone.

The growing knowledge of biochemistry and cell biology concerning the onset and progress of diseases and the effectiveness of newly developed drugs in the context of a living organism currently translates only to an unsatisfactory extend into methods of diagnostic imaging. Although many techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provide good contrast to differentiate various tissues, they cannot visualize the distribution of certain biomarkers. However, these typically very dilute molecules are becoming increasingly important for the concept of precision medicine to offer patients a customized treatment, and to better understand the mechanisms behind different diseases or to investigate the response to newly developed drugs.

The teams of physicist Leif Schröder at the FMP and biotechnologist Mikhail Shapiro at Caltech aim to improve this situation - but so far in separate efforts.
The Californian scientists have recently discovered a new class of contrast agents, which was initially used in diagnostic ultrasound as air-filled gas bubbles. But the actual potential emerged only when these vesicles were detected with an MRI method that is being developed at the FMP in Berlin. It is based on laser-polarized xenon which can be detected at very low concentrations. In initial tests, MR images were taken with sub-millimeter resolution in 18 minutes, for which one would need otherwise more than 300 million years when detecting the gas with conventional methods. Such dramatic improvements in sensitivity can only be achieved by fundamentally new approaches.

The two teams now were awarded US $ 750,000 over three years for further development of the method by the Board of Trustees of the Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP). In the highly competitive process their project was selected as one of 25 of original 672 applications submitted. The experts highlighted the potential of the method to achieve a "breakthrough in biomedical imaging and fundamental changes for the field". The HFSP is the only globally operating funding organization for supporting pioneering international collaborations in the life sciences. Its selected projects incorporate the latest developments in the adjacent natural sciences to obtain fundamentally new insights.

Additional information:
Leif Schröder:    ORCID ID:
Mikhail Shapiro:    ORCID ID:


Dr. Leif Schröder
Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP)
Tel.: 0049 30 94793-121


Public Relations
Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP),
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10
13125 Berlin

Silke Oßwald
Phone: +49 (0)30 94793 104

The Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) is part of the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB), who legally represents eight non-university research institutes - members of the Leibniz Association - in Berlin. The institutions pursue common interests within the framework of a single legal entity while maintaining their scientific autonomy. More than 1,900 employees work within the research association. The eight institutes were founded in 1992 and emerged from former institutes of the GDR Academy of Sciences.