Tiny magnetic particles may help doctors track cells in the body to better determine if treatments work, according to research reported in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, an American Heart Association journal.
Researchers showed that injecting immune cells containing magnetic particles into the bloodstream was safe and did not interfere with cell function. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can then track the cells moving through the body.
"This could change how we assess new treatments affecting inflammation and the outcome of a heart attack or heart failure," said Jennifer Richards, M.D., lead author and vascular surgeon at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cardiovascular Science in Scotland.
With stem cell therapy, doctors can adapt blood cells to fight disease. But when developing these therapies, it's hard to tell exactly where cells go and how many go where they are supposed to. Safely tracking them would help scientists better understand how new therapies combat heart disease.
Other tracing methods expose patients to excess radiation or only allow cells to be tracked for a few hours. But MRI scans use no radiation, and cells containing the particles can be monitored for at least a week.
Using test tubes, Richards' team first determined that magnetically labeled blood cells move and thrive like normal ones.
Then, they did four small-scale tests in humans:
Richards said more human tests are needed before researchers can regularly use magnetically labeled cells.