0421 GMT October 22, 2018
The technology uses a chemical tag that causes the host molecule to light up under magnetic resonance imaging, UPI wrote.
When the molecule interacts with other molecules inside the body, the MRI tag's fluorescence changes frequency.
The technology could allow researchers to better understand how a drug is metabolized by the body.
Thomas Theis, an assistant research professor in Duke's chemistry department, said, "MRI methods are very sensitive to small changes in the chemical structure, so you can actually use these tags to directly image chemical transformations.”
MRI tags aren't new, but scientists have developed a more precise and versatile way to attach tags to target molecules, using a kind of chemical velcro.
Duke grad student Junu Bae said, "The tags are like lightbulbs covered in Velcro.
"We attach the other side of the Velcro to the target molecule, and once they find each other they stick."
The velcro technique makes the tags bioorthogonal, meaning they stick only to the target molecules and ignore all others.
When the tag binds with its molecular target, the chemical reaction produces a unique form of nitrogen gas.
Scientists said the gaseous byproduct could prove useful when investigating problems with the pulmonary system.
Theis said, "One could dream up a lot of potential applications for the nitrogen gas, but one that we have been thinking about is lung imaging.”
Researchers detailed their new technology in the journal Science Advances.
Scientists are now working to ensure the tags can survive the different chemical environments found in the human body. They're also working to boost the intensity with which the molecular tags light up.