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The study Self-assembling dendrimer nanosystems for specific fluorine MRI and effective theranostic treatment of tumours has been published in the scientific journal PNAS. Among the researchers is Sabrina Pricl, associate professor of Chemical Engineering, scientific director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Nanotechnology at the University of Trieste and head of the international collaboration COST Cancer Nanomedicine - from the bench to the bedside. Erik Laurini, associate professor at UniTS, co-authored the study. 

In a world first, the research group have analysed and developed a new imaging system based on the use of fluorinated contrast agents. The system, aimed at early diagnosis and treatment of oncological diseases (even in their most invasive and aggressive forms), outperforms traditional hydrogen-based nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. Since water, and therefore hydrogen, constitute more than 70 per cent our body weight, classic MRI often has limitations in identifying differences between diseased tissue and surrounding tissue, especially for very small tumours. On the other hand, the use of fluorine-based contrast agents, which are not naturally present in human tissue, appears very promising. Precisely because of the absence of fluorine in most biological systems, it has the potential to provide clearer, more specific and resolute images compared to traditional techniques.

The use of fluorine MRI has so far been limited due to the lack of safe imaging agents, which are often characterised by limitations such as low signal-to-noise ratio, low fluorine content or instability or insolubility in water. Researchers, for the first time, have been able to create effective, efficient and non-toxic fluorine-based contrast agents.

Among the distinguishing features of the molecules designed by the researchers (nanosystems of self-assembled dendrimers) is their ability to perform multiple functions. More specifically, they belong to the category of teragnostics, since they are able to perform the function of diagnosis and therapy at the same time. Once the tumour has been detected, the molecules can be used to monitor its progress and release the appropriate therapy drug on site.

Interest in the use of fluorine MRI with fluorinated imaging agents is growing. Such nanosystems of teragnostic dendrimers represent the future in the field of personalised medicine. Being able to record and monitor the progress or regression of a tumour and at the same time continue to treat the disease is a real accomplishment in terms of therapeutic outcome and treatment endurance, which as a consequence are less invasive, toxic or harmful, while fully respecting patients,' explains Prof. Pricl.

The University of Trieste took part in the following phases: molecular design and engineering, performance computing, analysis and experimentation.

Among the funders were also AIRC, Cinema and ICSC, National Research Centre in HPC, Big Data and Quantum Computing.