Quantum technology for cancer imaging – BMBF funds local researchers with 4.2 million euros

Ulm University

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) is contributing 15.8 million euros to fund a highly innovative project intended to revolutionise the imaging of tumours with quantum technology. As part of this funded consortium of three university medical centres, two universities and industrial partners, the Ulm University Medical Centre and Ulm University are the recipients of 4.2 million euros in funding.

Satisfactory depiction of the structure of tumours is already possible today with diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, crucial information about tumour metabolism has been missing up to now. The so-called hyperpolarisation procedure is able to do just this. In this newly funded project, the promising, but extremely complicated method is to be made considerably faster and less expensive through quantum technology. Soon it should be ready for use in the clinical setting.

In Ulm, an interdisciplinary team of natural scientists is working together with physicians on the efficient implementation of the technology in the hospital setting, and Ulm will have one of the first hospitals in the world to use this innovative procedure for diagnosing cancer.

Potential for the hyperpolarisation method

The principle of hyperpolarisation has been known for some time. With the help of this special MRI procedure, it is possible, for instance, to examine tumour metabolism and especially changes throughout the course of the treatment on the basis of the body’s own substance pyruvate. For this purpose, the substance needs to be prepared in such a way that the weak MRI signal is amplified by a factor of 10,000 or more. Up to now, approaches for hyperpolarisation have been very elaborate, prone to disruption and have required several hours for one dose, which is why use in a clinical setting has only been investigated in a handful of studies. However, even in those few studies, the great potential for cancer diagnostics and treatment has been apparent.

Within the scope of the program “Quantum technologies – from the basics to the market”, the BMBF is funding the development of new quantum-based procedures, with which hyperpolarised MRI contrast agents can be produced in just a few minutes, just before the examination and with significantly lower costs. The collaborative project “QuE-MRI: Revolutionising cancer imaging with quantum technologies” is combining the experience of the external project partner, Ulm University spin-off NVision, which produces the novel hyperpolariser, with the clinical and methodical expertise from the University Medical Centres of Freiburg, Munich and Ulm, Ulm University and the Technical University of Munich.

Focus in Ulm

In order to optimise the new technology for use in the clinical routine, extensive methodological work is being carried out in the field of quantum physics (Prof M B Plenio), organic chemistry (Prof M von Delius) and MRI (Prof V Rasche). For the subsequent clinical evaluation, each site is focusing on establishing a technique for a specific type of tumour. Due to its longstanding renowned research, Ulm University Medical Centre is focusing on pancreatic carcinoma (Prof A Kleger, Prof T Seufferlein), breast carcinoma (Prof W Janni), future applications of the technology in the area of cardiology (Prof S Just) and the establishment of measurement technology in a clinical environment (Prof A Beer, Prof M Beer).

Further information:
Prof Dr Volker Rasche, Department of Internal Medicine II, Ulm University Medical Centre, E-mail: volker.rasche(at)uni-ulm.de

Prof Dr Max von Delius, Institute of Organic Chemistry I, Ulm University, E-mail: max.vondelius(at)uni-ulm.de

Text: Prof. Dr. Volker Rasche
Translation: Kate Gaugler


[Translate to English:] Magnetresonanztomograph
As part of the BMBF-funded project, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is breaking new ground and will make direct imaging of metabolism possible. (Image: Ulm University Medical Centre)
[Translate to English:] Gruppenbild Qu-MRT
Aspiring to revolutionise magnetic resonance imaging (from left): Professors Volker Rasche, Wolfgang Janni, Steffen Just, Thomas Seufferlein, Meinrad Beer, Martin Plenio, Max von Delius, Alexander Kleger and Ambros Beer are breaking new ground together in metabolic imaging, from theoretical basics to clinical trials. The group photograph was created in a photo editing programme. (Image: Ulm University Medical Centre)