Successful mid-term evaluation of the MetaboliQs project

Press release / June 09, 2020

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death globally: more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause. The MetaboliQs project combines diamond-based quantum sensing and medical imaging, two areas of European excellence, to fundamentally change the molecular understanding and personalized care of cardiovascular diseases. It will translate a newly developed hyperpolarization method for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) based on the high quantum coherence of nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers. This breakthrough technology will enable previously unachievable, highly sensitive quantification of metabolic activity, paving the way for precision diagnostics and better-personalized treatment of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and other related pathologies.

The goal of the project is to develop a novel diamond polarizer which will increase the MRI signal of metabolites more than 1000-fold. The unique quantum properties of NV centers remove the physical limits of current hyperpolarization technology, fundamentally changing the potential of the modality. The consortium will leverage these properties to offer a significant cost reduction on hyperpolarized technology, (40x) throughput, and unlock capabilities highly important for the diagnostics and understanding of CVDs.

During the first half of the project, important breakthroughs have been achieved:

Advances in quantum-grade diamond growth and processing

 

  • Homogeneous layers of ultra-shallow NV centers with excellent coherence time and sensing / polarization efficiency have been generated.
  • Optimized µm-thick nitrogen-rich microwave plasma CVD diamond has been grown with adjustable high NV concentrations in combination with long coherence times exceeding state of the art diamonds (HPHT/CVD).
  • A new top-down etching technique for the formation nanopillar arrays with <400 nm pitch and >15 aspect ratio has been invented

 

Diamond sample grown by E6
© Element Six
Diamond sample grown by E6
Lifted EBL metal mask on as grown surface of highly N-doped diamond layer on CVD substrate
© Fraunhofer IAF
Lifted EBL metal mask on as grown surface of highly N-doped diamond layer on CVD substrate

Advances in the development of the diamond polarizer

 

  • A diamond stack composed out of 8 nanostructured diamond polarizator-substrates (polarizer prototype) were successfully aligned to enable polarization of preclinical volumes of pyruvate.
  • With respect to MRI improved imaging, sensitivity X7-fold by integration of novel 13C cryo-coil for preclinical imaging was achieved.
  • New imaging acquisition sequences for capturing 3D hyperpolarized images have been developed in combination with a comprehensive simulation framework for synthesizing MRI data.
  • The hyper-polarizator at the heart of the project was used to apply new dynamic nuclear polarization sequences to achieve 12% 13C polarization, which is over an order of magnitude higher than state of the art.
Aligned NS diamond stack (10 µm overgrown layer with 8 ppm nitrogen concentration, activated electron irradiation)
© NVision
Aligned NS diamond stack (10 µm overgrown layer with 8 ppm nitrogen concentration, activated electron irradiation)
Diamond polarizer lab prototype
© NVision
Diamond polarizer lab prototype

In order to explain the project, its goals and partners to a broad audience, a video was produced. This is used to enable all interested parties - whether they have previous knowledge of quantum technology or not - access to the innovative field of quantum sensing.

The consortium is happy to announce that the project is proceeding as planned. The excellent results achieved so far will also affect the development of diamond based quantum sensors, they will lead to novel nano-MRI applications where combinations of high sensitivity and large spectral selectivity is required, for instance MRI of cells and large bio-molecules. MetaboliQs' research is at the heart of the European Quantum Flagship activities and is closely collaborating with the AsteriQs project, where basic quantum physics and technology is developed for a variety of applications in metrology, communication and computing.

 

MetaboliQs is a joint project of

  • Fraunhofer IAF in Freiburg, Germany;
  • Element Six in Oxfordshire, UK;
  • NVision Imaging Technologies in Ulm, Germany;
  • Technical University of Munich, Germany;
  • Bruker Corporation in Karlsruhe, Germany;
  • Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; and
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 820374.

The use of the attached photographs is only permitted in relation to this press release.