Rare Earths Role in Medical Imaging and Treatments (Part 2)

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". . .rare earth metals play a key role in many areas of medical research."

Recently we wrote about the role of rare earth metals in imaging and early research into treatment options for DIPG, a rare and deadly form of brain cancer. We interviewed Dr. Russell Lonser of the NIH to better understand his research in Convection Enhanced Delivery (CED) whereby drugs are delivered directly to tumors or other hard-to-reach places, in the case of other diseases. In addition to CED, rare earth metals play a key role in many areas of medical research. We will attempt to cover some of these areas in future posts.

CED appears to be an extremely complicated process of both identifying, in the case of DIPG, specific tumor areas, and then effectively and accurately delivering drugs to that area. We asked Dr. Lonser why the focus on CED and not intravenous drug delivery. He told us that the blood-brain barrier is unique to the central nervous system, "if you give a drug into the mouth or vein or artery, the drug will get to where it needs to go. But vessels in the central nervous system work a bit differently. Only very small molecules can successfully cross over the barrier. This is why chemotherapy doesn't cross into these types of tumors very well. The idea behind CED is to bypass the blood brain barrier."

Gadolinium and gadolinium compounds are commonly used in medical imaging and are a critical component to CED. We spoke with Daniel Sodickson, Vice Chair for Research at the Department of Radiology at NYU about gadolinium and its role in medical imaging. Basically, gadolinium works remarkably well as a contrast agent because it has a very distinctive magnetic field. "Gadolinium changes the rate of the decay of the signal (it typically makes it decay faster). This means the signal in the region is clearer," enabling better views of tumors, according to Sodickson.

Because we are really at the front edge of understanding this, unfortunately, more questions than answers remain. Dr. Lonser's study is currently waiting an IND (Investigation of a New Drug) approval from the FDA to do the trial, which he hopes will come soon. Results will be made available in one year.

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