10 June 2016

Innovative medical imaging modality

Researcher from Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences is honored with the European Inventor Award 2016 in Lisbon

Yesterday Thursday, 9 June 2016, the European Inventor Award 2016 ceremony was held in Lisbon by the European Patent Office (EPO). The annually presented award by the EPO recognizes researchers, engineers and inventors whose inventions have been patented by the EPO and have made an exceptional contribution to economic, technical and social progress.

The German researchers Bernhard Gleich (46) and Jürgen Weizenecker (48), professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences competed with Virna Cerne and Ombretta Polenghi from Italy and the Belgian-French team of Joan Daemen and Pierre-Yvan Liardet. In the “Industry” category Gleich and Weizenecker were honored with the European Inventor Award 2016 for their achievements in Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI). Their innovation is considered to introduce a new generation of imaging technology capable to provide real-time 3D images of body tissue to millimeter accuracy. The technology allows the visualization of tumors and vascular diseases with a spatial resolution of up to 0.5 mm. MPI can also be applied in the fields of material sciences as well as fluid dynamics offering new opportunities for quality assurance and safety control since surface cracks and fractures can be clearly detected.

Bernhard Gleich and Jürgen Weizenecker are two physicists engaged in medical engineering. They started their common research activities on imaging modality in Hamburg over 15 years ago. The breakthrough method takes advantage of the magnetic characteristics of so-called superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs): once they are in the bloodstream of a patient, they can be rendered detectable by applying a magnetic field and highly accurate real-time 3D images from the body’s interior are assembled via computer software. Compared to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) the provision of images by the MPI method is significantly faster. Thus doctors are able to determine immediately if a vessel is narrowed or an artery is blocked. This marks an important milestone for diagnostics of cardiovascular diseases still being the most common cause for death in Germany. MPI is a highly sensitive imaging modality as patients are not exposed to radiation and the magnetic particles are safely processed by the body’s metabolism without any hazardous effects. The transmission of live-images from the body’s interior during surgeries is another possible application for MPI providing real-time monitoring of surgery effects and medication. By today, the European Patent Office has granted more than a total of 30 patents related to the enhancement of MPI technology. The first pre-clinical MPI scanner was installed at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) in 2014.

The fast and precise scanners are promised to have great global market opportunities. The market research company MarketsandMarkets predicts a market expansion for pre-clinical (in vivo) imaging of up to EUR 731 million globally by 2019. That would represent an annual growth of 6 % between 2014 and 2019. “With their high level of expertise in the field of magnetism, Gleich and Weizenecker have laid the foundation for an entirely new class of medical imaging with far-reaching applications for doctors and researchers," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli.

Now in its 11th year, the award ceremony at Lisbon’s MEO Arena was attended by 600 prominent guests from the areas of politics, business and science. It was opened by the EPO President, by Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa and by Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

"We hope this award will have a great advertising effect“, says Professor Dr. Dieter Höpfel, Vice-President of Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, “unfortunately, young people show little interest in the area of Electrical Engineering. The invention of Gleich and Weizenecker however is a great example of a pioneering application in this area.”

Source: Information of the European Patent Office of 9 June 2016