Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD, say that they have built and demonstrated a chip-scale device that both produces and detects a specialized gas used in biomedical analysis and medical imaging. The new microfluidic chip produces polarized (or magnetized) xenon gas and then detects even the faintest magnetic signals from the gas.

Polarized xenon can be used to detect the presence of certain molecules. It can also be used as a contrast agent to enhance images in experimental magnetic resonance imaging of human lungs. However, conventional systems for producing and using this gas can be as large as a car.

The new chip, created by researchers from NIST and three other institutions, could be used to reduce the size and cost of some instruments that, like MRI, rely on nuclear magnetic resonance. The chip’s sensitive internal detector boosts the response of microfluidic NMR on small samples and eliminates the need for the powerful magnets associated with larger NMR devices such as those used in MRI. The chip could be mass produced, they say, and integrated into existing microfluidic systems.

The combination of a xenon polarizer and detector in the same device, together with the extraordinary sensitivity of the chip device, could help make polarized xenon technology portable and less expensive for biomedical and other applications outside research laboratories.


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