A new imaging technique to examine the small intestine is being developed by a research team from the University of Buffalo. The novel method is based on nanoparticles suspended in a liquid ingested by the patients — the “nano juice” — which is expected to allow physicians to identify, understand, and treat gastrointestinal diseases.
The “nano juice” reaches the small intestine and provides physicians with an unparalleled, non-invasive, real-time view of the organ, using a harmless laser light, according to the article published in the journal Nature Nanotechlogy.
“Conventional imaging methods show the organ and blockages, but this method allows you to see how the small intestine operates in real time,” explained lead investigator Jonathan Lovell, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Buffalo. “Better imaging will improve our understanding of these diseases and allow doctors to more effectively care for people suffering from them.”
Lovell’s research team explored naphthalcyanines, which is a family of dyes that absorb large portions of light in the near-infrared spectrum. These small molecules are able to produce the ideal range for biological contrast agents. Researchers included them in the liquid so that they could be absorbed from the intestine into the blood stream. They created “nano naps,” which are nanoparticles, containing colorful dye molecules able to both disperse in liquid and transit from the intestine to the blood flow.
The small intestine is difficult to examine, given its characteristics, being roughly 23 feet long and 1 inch thick, positioned between the stomach and the large intestine. Currently, physicians examine it using X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasound images, which can offer snapshots, but are limited. Patients previously used to drink a thick, chalky liquid called barium, so that physicians could image the organ. However, these techniques are not totally safe, accessible, and often do not provide the adequate contrast.
It is in the small intestine that much of the digestion and absorption of aliments occur, but it is also there that most symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and other gastrointestinal illnesses happen. One of the purposes of the tests is to examine the contraction of peristalsis, the muscles that propels food through the small intestine and when malfunctioning may be an evidence of one these diseases, as well as side effects of thyroid disorders, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. And none the traditional exams is able to provide totally effective real-time imaging of the movement.