Yale researchers have developed a new imaging technique that captures detailed information about metabolism, which plays a role in many diseases. The novel yet simple technique, which harnesses existing technology, could potentially be used to evaluate the effectiveness of drug therapies for cancer and other conditions, the researchers said

Known as deuterium metabolic imaging, or DMI, the technique uses MRI scanning technology to create three-dimensional images of how fuels like glucose are metabolized in the brain and other organs.

To test the technique, the researchers applied DMI to rats and human subjects that had consumed glucose labeled with deuterium—a nonradioactive or stable isotope of hydrogen.

Brain scans revealed distinct differences in the metabolism of glucose in normal tissue versus tumor tissue. The researchers also observed changes in the glucose metabolism of animals receiving cancer therapy.

 Metabolic response

Metabolism plays a key role in the origin or progression of many diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and cancer.  Clinicians and patients would, therefore, benefit from a readily available noninvasive imaging modality that can reveal detailed metabolic information.

The finding demonstrates that DMI can reveal a metabolic response to a drug therapy even before the drug has an impact on tumor size, providing a new tool for drug evaluation, the researchers said.

Their results show that DMI, which combines 2H MRSI with the administration of deuterium-labeled substrates, can distinguish between normal and aberrant metabolism in vivo.

They demonstrated DMI’s potential by mapping the metabolism of either 2H-labeled glucose or acetate in the brain and liver of animal models and human subjects.

The DMI-based data allowed 3D visualization of in vivo metabolism with technically simple and robust methods that can be implemented on most clinical MRI scanners. Accordingly, we believe that DMI’s capacity to image metabolism can be of great clinical benefit in a variety of disease settings.

The same robust technique can theoretically be applied to any disease that involves metabolism, such as multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, and is not restricted to the brain but can also image other organs, they noted. With their findings, they hope to take DMI from the research environment to the clinic.