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The molecular cage holds the xenon, while the target unit (orange) allows it to selectively bind to the desired target molecule.  (Source: Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley)

When the molecule finds its target, the cryptophan cage starts to convert polarized xenon gas to non-polarized xenon. The proess is temperature dependent, which can improve the accuracy of the detection.  (Source: Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley)

The team that developed the new technology includes team leader Leif Schröder (left) with Monica Smith, who holds a probe housing a phantom target, and Tyler Meldrum, holding a model of a biosensor's cryptophane cage  (Source: Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley)
Peeking inside the human body just got a little bit easier

Some very complex, but very important research breakthroughs have recently taken place at the labs of Alexander Pines and David Wemmer at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley.  The new breakthroughs revolve around the process of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  MRIs are valuable diagnostic tools, helping to reveal detailed information on neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and oncological structure and health.  This in turn allows doctors to diagnose tumors and various other maladies.

The main problem with MRIs is that they’re slow, force the patient to lie still, and lack resolution.  The alternative is to take a biopsy of the possibly affected tissue, but many chemical tests must be done to analyze it.  Now a new method in essence lets a highly accurate MRI, thousands of times more precise to be conducted on biopsies, allowing individual molecules to be identified, and largely eliminating the need for multiple tests.

Tradition MRI devices rely on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging; a process by which RF radiation is sent, setting molecules spinning due to their odd number of protons.  Depending on the nearby structures, their spin will be altered.  RF radiation is subsequently emitted from the spinning molecule, revealing if it spins "up" or "down".  By measuring the number spinning up versus down, the nearby structures attached can be determined.  In MRIs the spin of the molecules is traditionally enhanced used a magnetic field.

Typically, MRIs measure spin from hydrogen atoms, an abundant element in the human body, which is largely composed of hydrocarbons.  Traditional biopsy methods typically rely on chemical indicators, which change color when they detect a specific target molecule.

The new method combines NMR/MRI technology with biopsy analysis.  The key is to use xenon gas molecules and a special organic molecular cage which holds them.   The molecule is composed of a cage which holds xenon molecules, an intermediate organic section, and a ligand (part of the molecule which bonds to other stuff) at its end.  The ligand ensures that the molecule only bonds to a specific target.

The molecules are injected along with polarized xenon gas into the sample.  When the cage molecules find the target of their ligand, they bond to it.  The cage then begins to depolarize xenon.  This depolarized xenon is then picked up by MRI devices.  This specialized type of Magnetic Resonance Imaging is dubbed Hyper-CEST for hyperpolarized xenon chemical-exchange saturation transfer.

The rate can also be temperature controlled, to improve the process.  Also using multiple cage designs can improve results.  The end result is a much higher accuracy version of MRI/biopsy processes.  Team member Tyler Meldrum, of the Materials Sciences Division describes these benefits stating, "Slight differences in cage composition, involving only a carbon atom or two, affect the frequency of the signal from the xenon and produce distinct peaks in the NMR spectrum.  If we design different cages for different xenon frequencies, we can put them all in at once and, by selectively tuning the rf pulses, see peaks at the frequencies corresponding to each kind of cage.

While this technology will likely take a while to get to market, it will likely provide a valuable diagnostic tool.  The researchers have solved half the problem -- the detection molecule -- now the real challenge that remains is cataloguing ligands that can bind selectively to the plethora of molecules produced when stuff goes right or wrong in the human body. 

This new diagnostic tool, while very promising, like many new promising drug delivery techniques, relies on the development of target molecules which can detect cancer cells or other items of interest.  The problem won't be solved overnight, but by slow and steady research.  This is why projects like Folding At Home remain so valuable to the medical community.

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RE: Yea but...
By nafhan on 5/9/2008 1:20:52 PM , Rating: 3
I can come up with some better reasons why costs continue to increase:
-- New medical procedures and drugs continue to be researched. Research is expensive.
-- Litigation against medical personel and hospitals. My aunt is an OB/GYN and a few years ago she remarked that she pays over $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance. She has over 30 years of experience delivering 1000's of babies.
-- Overuse of hospital emergency rooms as opposed to family doctors or urgent care centers, etc.
-- Aging population requires more medical care

Not to say that businesses aren't greedy, but government control of healthcare doesn't solve all the problems; it creates different ones.

RE: Yea but...
By EvolutionTheory on 5/9/2008 1:30:29 PM , Rating: 2
-- Litigation against medical personel and hospitals. My aunt is an OB/GYN and a few years ago she remarked that she pays over $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance. She has over 30 years of experience delivering 1000's of babies.

Litigation could also have to do with so many incompetent hospitals giving poor service and endangering patient lives through poorly trained staff and unclean room conditions.

RE: Yea but...
By Marlin1975 on 5/9/2008 1:42:04 PM , Rating: 1
The median pay for a OB/GYN is around $200k yet the one you know pays $200k for insurance herself. yea BS

Also hate to burst your other BS bubble but litigation cost have gone up at the average rate of inflation. So that has not changed, only that insurance companies are making more money now then before.

RE: Yea but...
By dever on 5/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Yea but...
By winterspan on 5/9/2008 5:56:07 PM , Rating: 3
What you say is correct, but not relevant to what he said. No one is talking about throwing out the constitution and capitalism and going to communism/socialism. Government structures all remain intact, and the free market remains intact.
The only thing that changes is that the healthcare system shifts from a private, for-profit 'oligarchy' run by large corporations to a government organized non-profit. Thus, the HUGE profits going to the corporate/elite coffers gets redirected back into the 'pot'. With proper leadership and organization, and the delegation of the actual healthcare practice to private companies, We could definitely have a win-win private+public partnership. And I am NOT talking about an imaginary Utopia, but a well-functioning healthcare system that reduces overall costs for the middle class (read: The actual 'normal' people in the USA).

I'm wondering if all the readers here know that nearly every other developed 'western' country in the world either has a national health care system or is in the process of building one. Then again, In most of those counties, the ELECTORATE IS ACTUALLY IN CONTROL OF THE COUNTRY, AND NOT THE OLIGARCHY.

RE: Yea but...
By djc208 on 5/12/2008 6:53:13 AM , Rating: 2
With proper leadership and organization, and the delegation of the actual healthcare practice to private companies

See you had a decent point until there, then you just veered off into a fantasy world.

Problem is, like the tax system, while there are easier and more efficient ways to do the same thing, there's also too much money wrapped up in the way it's currently done. No group of politicians has the testicular fortitude to interefere in that kind of money flow and the jobs that go with it.

RE: Yea but...
By dever on 5/13/2008 2:34:15 PM , Rating: 2
the free market remains intact... shifts to a government organized non-profit
Nationalization (government control) of private industry is the basis of socialism. You can't be serious in arguing that when an entire industry is controlled by the government the "free market remains intact?" Is this what public schools are teaching now?

nearly every other developed 'western' country in the world either has a national health care system or is in the process of building one
Yes, and America still has the BEST healthcare system... I'd like to retain that distinction. Many of the richest politicians from those other countries come to America for treatment when their life is on the line. Recent example was a Canadian Senator who came to California for her treatment of breast cancer. Of course, most of her middle-class constituents do not have that option.

The study of prioritizing the allocation of scarce resources (economics) has for 200 years found that the most efficient way to do this is the free market. Every interference (controls, regulations, etc.) in the end, increases the cost to the consumer. Increase costs means reduced demand (only the wealthiest can afford to go outside of the government system). Or, if government tries to combat this with "price caps" the result is reduced supply.

RE: Yea but...
By Kenenniah on 5/9/2008 3:20:42 PM , Rating: 2
From your link....
Individuals reporting: 85

I hardy think a survey of 85 people's salaries is anywhere near a large enough sample size of the US to mean jack. Not necesarily saying it's wrong, but it's hardly a large enough sample size to be taken as gospel.

RE: Yea but...
By masher2 on 5/9/2008 3:56:22 PM , Rating: 2
> "Also hate to burst your other BS bubble but litigation cost have gone up at the average rate of inflation"

This isn't true at all. In 1996, the average size of a malpractice jury award was just under $500K. By 2000, it topped $1M...a 50% increase in just 4 years time. The frequency of malpractice claims has gone up dramatically as well. (data: American Academy of Actuaries)

RE: Yea but...
By masher2 on 5/9/2008 6:11:26 PM , Rating: 2
> "The median pay for a OB/GYN is around $200k yet the one you know pays $200k for insurance herself. yea BS..."

Just to point out another fallacy here, median salary figures for doctors are calculated after costs such as malpractice insurance. So there is no disrepancy in his statement.

Indeed, $200K/year for insurance sounds about right from what I've heard as well. My GP once remarked he paid over $10K/month, and that was quite a few years ago.

RE: Yea but...
By Kenenniah on 5/9/2008 6:21:56 PM , Rating: 2
And to burst your bubble about insurance companies, they rarely end up with much in the way of underwriting gains for the year. On average the money paid in by insureds is roughly equal to the amount paid out for losses, underwriting expenses incurred, and dividends paid. Some years they post underwriting gains, but also quite often they post losses. Actuaries use statistical models to try to predict future losses and set policy premiums accordingly to try to maintain that rough balance. Therefore the amount insurance costs is directly affected by the number and average payout of lawsuits. The more lawsuits there are and the higher the payouts get, the more insurance costs period. And yes, the opposite does ocurr. When statistics start to show a drop in losses incurred, premiums get lowered.

The reason for this equalibrium is partially competition. Insurance companies want to have the lowest possible premiums to entice customers. The other reason is the insurance aspect is not how the companies expect to make money. They make their profit from investing received premiums much like a bank does with your deposits.

So basically your statement is dead wrong. The relationship between insurance costs and litigation and other losses is pretty damn close to linear.

RE: Yea but...
By PandaBear on 5/9/2008 9:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe her aunt wasn't getting median pay. I sure wasn't getting median pay for my job (above median FTW).

RE: Yea but...
By kkwst2 on 5/9/2008 9:52:52 PM , Rating: 2
Well I hate to burst YOUR bubble, but his numbers aren't far off, depending on where they practice.

The numbers you're looking at are likely skewed toward academic practice, in which the malpractice is payed by the group and not directly by the physician. Thus the salary doesn't include what is payed on behalf of the physician for malpractice. Private practice physicians generally make a lot more money, but have to foot the bill for insurance.

The costs for certain practices like OB are so prohibitive that some areas don't have enough physicians due to increasing costs.

RE: Yea but...
By cscpianoman on 5/9/2008 11:40:23 PM , Rating: 2
I'm a medical student, first year actually and I can see a lot of problems out there in the medical field. Actually, it has almost gotten so bad that I have almost considered changing my preferred profession.

Malpractice suits are so high as to make it almost not worth becoming/practicing medicine. Add on top of that, tuition for medical schools are only going up. Some schools have tuition approaching $60k a year! After 4 years that is $240k and that is without interest! Now lets couple that with Congress attempting to cut medicare/medicaid payments. Add onto that the decrease in payments by insurance companies and there is no wonder there is a shortage of doctors and it will only get worse unless something drastically changes.

I think there should be a limit on lawsuits. I also believe if the a person sues someone and loses that they should pay the court fees. I also think that there needs to be drastic changes in how we do medicine. The ER is overworked. Here in Phoenix, the avg. wait time is roughly 3 hours. In my mind that is unacceptable, but there is a limit of space, doctors, nurses and everything else to accommodate that many people at once. Hopefully, we can work things out where there is a benefit to patients and physicians.

I personally don't like the idea of socialized medicine, but if that is how the cookie crumbles, so be it. However, if things don't correct themselves quickly we will have no physicians willing to do anything because of the high cost of malpractice or the risk of being sued. I don't think people realize how much doctors put up with.

RE: Yea but...
By JustTom on 5/10/2008 10:46:50 PM , Rating: 2
Your link is reporting salaries, salaries are paid to staff physicians not to doctors who run private practices. A OB/GYN paying $200K for malpractice insurance is not even remotely out of the realm of possibility. The average rate in Florida for instance is $195K.
From the July 3, 2007 NY Times:
The society said the increase would mean that a neurosurgeon in Long Island would now have to pay $309,311 for one year’s coverage, while an ob-gyn specialist in Brooklyn or Queens would have to pay $173,061.

RE: Yea but...
By Orbs on 5/9/2008 4:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with each of your points above. While I don't believe the government would be more efficient, I do think that they would work to get healthcare to a greater percentage of the population (hopefully decreasing the overuse of ER rooms in the process).

Ideally there would be subsidies for families that can't afford medical insurance but they would be strictly enforced such that folks that don't attempt to find work don't get the benefit. That way those that find employment but with employers without decent coverage could benefit without the system falling victim to the lazy.

Additionally I think reforms on the level of minimum insurance that employers need to offer employees is part of the problem. Obviously this will increase costs and therefore prices, so cheaper goods may not be economical to manufacture in the US.

That said, maybe it's time for this country to grow up a bit and actually promote imports, offshoring etc. in order to make sure that those that do work in the US get the benefits to which they are entitled (and to force the education system to educate students for more high-skilled professions across the board).

RE: Yea but...
By straycat74 on 5/9/2008 7:32:07 PM , Rating: 2
If the government supplies the citizens with health coverage, that has no direct cost to the consumers of said service, what do you think would happen? If people don't directly pay for it, it will be considered free. People will abuse it, and go to the doctor for every little problem.

What if gas were free? What kind of car would you drive. Would you bother to shut it off, lets say, in the winter when its cold?

Health care can run into shortages just like anything else.
ER's would see an increase in use, not less.

RE: Yea but...
By someguy123 on 5/10/2008 12:38:56 AM , Rating: 2
have americans really gone so far down the toilet that people automatically expect the worst? there are quite a few of us that have some morals, although I do agree that realistically there will be many people abusing the system. what about canada? their government offers health care and it seems to be working out just fine, although I don't have any statistics about an increase in general usage after government supported health care was deployed.

the problem with health care right now is that corporations are only interested in turning a profit rather than improving quality of health care, so they push research on new drugs to sell at high premiums. HMO's are the same, and its a nightmare trying to get the coverage that you paid for as there are tons of loop holes for HMO's to crawl through.

converting heath care to a non-profit service will still allow the government to pay doctors, researchers etc well, but there would be less cut backs and no cut throat insurance agencies from corporations trying to turn a profit. I know there will always be corruption behind the scenes, but I think it would be much better than the current health care situation.

i really think health care shouldn't be a profit driven business. how can you deny a person treatment or medicine just to maintain a profit? I know in some instances there may not be enough doctors or medication to help everyone, but currently there are way too many times where a person could have been helped but they just could not afford the cost.

RE: Yea but...
By masher2 on 5/10/2008 10:52:56 AM , Rating: 2
> "the problem with health care right now is that corporations are only interested in turning a profit rather than improving quality of health care, so they push research on new drugs to sell at high premiums"

Err, the total percentage of healthcare spent on pharmaceuticals is about 5%. Meaning even if all drugs were free, costs would barely decline at all.

The problem is simple. A shortage of doctors, nurses, and other staff, coupled with an army of tort attorneys driving medical claims to astronomical levels.

RE: Yea but...
By JS on 5/12/2008 10:56:07 AM , Rating: 2
I think most countries that have "free" health care charge a fee for every visit to the doctor. Not even close to the actual cost, but something like 15-30 dollars. It's enough to make people not go see the doctor just because there's nothing good on tv, but at the same time it will not ruin anyone's economy. It obviously works ok in most of Europe.

On a side note, I believe that health care is a basic human right, along with freedom of expression and education. I am stunned that so many people in the US view it as just another service, something that you should only get if you have the money.

RE: Yea but...
By bigjellysandwich on 5/10/2008 12:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
I am currently a radiology resident having completed a prior residency in another field. To quickly address the issue of salary to the reply posts, relies on docs submitting this information and there is no way of knowing if this is after insurance, taxes, medschool loan payments, etc. Your aunty probably does very well but her salary largely depends on the population (and how well insured) in which she practices. Unfortunately, if the baby is unhealthy in any way whatsoever, patients want someone to blame--> the OB. Hence the high insurance premiums. You can thank Sen. Edwards for this one.

From my perspective, medical imaging is very expensive and much overutilized. It seems much of this overutilization is partly due to referring physicians covering their ass due to fear of litigation. I can't tell you how many inappropriate expensive CTs are ordered for "rule out" type diagnoses. However, I am not a clinician so I am often out of the loop until the CT is already performed.

I largely agree with what you said. But I believe health care cost have gone up to drastically primarily because WE CAN DO SO MUCH MORE than we could only 30 years ago. Advances in imaging (CT, PET/CT, MRI), therapy (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, radionuclide therapy), and medicine and the research to produce these drugs, like you said, all cost more money. Agreed there are abuses of the system not helping matters, but these inefficiencies do not account for a large portion of health care costs.

And to those proponents of socialized health care below, there is a reason affluent Canadians are coming stateside to get their MRI scans or surgeries performed in a timely manner. Additionally, if how the VA functions is any indication how an American socialized health care system will perform, I am moving my family to Germany.

RE: Yea but...
By masher2 on 5/10/2008 2:55:29 PM , Rating: 2
> "But I believe health care cost have gone up to drastically primarily because WE CAN DO SO MUCH MORE than we could only 30 years ago."

That's an extremely important point that is often ignored. Every new cure, treatment, or procedure developed means one more thing to ultimately be paid for. Whereas a few decades ago, we could do nothing, today we might spend $100K and save a life.

Ultimately, I think medical science will be almost fully automated, with most tests and procedures done by machine. But until then, new medical advances will almost always mean new costs as well.

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