Duke University chemists say they have developed a new way to measure temperature changes inside the body with unprecedented precision, by correcting a subtle error in the original theory underlying Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The technique could improve clinical applications of hyperthermia against cancer, and could also be applied in other kinds of therapy, according to Warren Warren, a Duke chemistry professor and one of the researchers.

The Duke group’s approach involves selective detection of what are called “intermolecular multiple quantum coherences (iMQCs)” in hydrogen atoms. According to Warren, the use of iMQCs is an application of his lab's 1998 correction of an early “subtle mistake” in the way MRI’s inventors exploited quantum mechanical theory. "We can get five to 10 times better accuracy in temperature maps than is possible with the best possible conventional methods," he said.

MRI is a radiation-free technology for imaging patients' interior anatomies. It works because hydrogen atoms in internal organs will broadcast their locations when subjected to selected radio waves in the presence of a strong, computer-programmable magnetic field. The Duke team’s report notes that the technique has been demonstrated in live rodents, including obese animals whose cells mimic those in fatty breast tissue. Because of fat cells’ effects on magnetic fields, breast tissue cannot be temperature-checked using conventional MRI, the report noted.

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