Jan Arden kjær

Extremely accurate images of cancer cells secure the right treatment

Tuesday 19 Jan 21
by Tom Nervil


Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen
Head of Section, Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 45 25 39 18


HYPERMAG is supported by the Danish National Research Foundation. It is headed by Professor Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen, who developed the most widespread hyperpolarization method back in 2003. Hyperpolarization has a lot of applications within e.g. biology and chemistry, but medical imaging, and especially cancer research, is the most advanced. Worldwide, clinical trials with hyperpolarized MR on cancer patients are taking place in eight research hospitals, among others at Aarhus University Hospital Skejby in Denmark. Read more about HYPERMAG here: http://www.hypermag.dtu.dk/.
A 10-20,000 fold enhancement of the MR-scanner’s signals makes it possible to follow the metabolism of a single cell and thereby analyse how aggressively cancer develops in a patient.

The method, which is developed by Professor Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen from DTU Health Tech, is called ’hyperpolarized magnetic resonance imaging’, and is predicted to have a huge potential for the cancer treatment of the future.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is one of the most commonly used scanning methods to diagnose diseases in the body, but the method is not infallible due to its insufficient level of detail. The researchers from DTU have therefore developed and tested a method with higher sensitivity and improved contrast to clarify diagnoses and reduce the number of misjudgements.

The method is about magnetising a tracer, for example sugar pyruvate, by means of hyperpolarization. When the magnetic tracer is injected into the patient, it will be absorbed into the cells of the body. The tracer will enhance the MR signal with a factor of 20,000 or more and enable measurement of the cells’ metabolism. Especially cancer cells, which have a high metabolism, are revealed by the images.

Hence, new studies on patients with prostate cancer show that it is possible to evaluate the tumour’s aggressiveness without a biopsy (i.e. non-invasively without any physical measures) and that it is possible to measure the effect of the treatment.

”The advantage for the patient is that we early and accurately can measure if the treatment has an effect, i.e. if the treatment kills the cancer cells. Since we do not use ionizing radiation, we can make multiple scans over the course of treatment. In some cancer types, for example prostate cancer, the medical doctor also needs a method to predict more accurately if the tumour develops aggressively or if there is time to wait”, Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen explains.

The tracer is the miracle and the challenge

"The advantage for the patient is that we early and accurately can measure if the treatment has an effect"
Professor Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen, DTU Health Tech

The magnetic tracer - or contrast agent – is the thing that makes the extreme imaging possible and it is also safe for the patient. But it is also the challenge for this method, because the production of the contrast agent must take place just before the actual injection in the patient due to its very short shelf life.

Therefore, the magnetization of the agent takes place in a special machine (which Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen has developed), and that until further notice is only found in Skejby and at Rigshospitalet and abroad.


”Placing the production of the magnetic tracer close to the patient, gives the hospital staff the necessary time they need, but of course it is a limitation in terms of distribution of the method”, Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen says.


Hyperpolarized MR has been tested on patients, and researchers are now documenting the efficiency, so Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen is optimistic:

”During the next 3-5 years, I expect that we will solve the technical problems and start formal clinical studies to get approval to use the method in specific patient groups.”


Photo: Professor Jan Henrik Ardenkjær-Larsen (photo by Jesper Scheel)


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