Cooperation with Siemens’ Healthineers for New Medical Imaging

Photo: privat Florian Grüner
Photo: privat Florian Grüner

How do immune cells move in infectious regions of the body? And how do newly developed agents reach places, for example, where they can fight tumors? X-ray fluorescence imaging, developed further at Universität Hamburg, provides new insight into these questions. Now a team at Universität Hamburg wants to improve access to this technology in cooperation with Siemens- Healthineers and TU Berlin.

X-ray fluorescence imaging could be a key application for understanding medical and pharmacological issues. At Universität Hamburg, a team headed by experimental physicist Florian Grüner is conducting research. Despite initial breakthroughs, an unsolved problem remains: to date, the imaging method can be used only in a particle accelerator-based synchrotron plant because only these large facilities are capable of delivering the special x-ray parameters required for imaging. Thus, access to this highly promising imaging is also highly restricted, for example for the Global South.

From the large research facility to the small laboratory

Together with researchers from TU Berlin headed by Birgit Kanngießer, the team at Universität Hamburg has now started to investigate whether conventional x-ray tubes could actually deliver the necessary ray quality-contrary to assumptions so far. These x-ray sources are used all over the world. Thus far, the quality of such x-rays has not been sufficient; we could not prove the weak x-ray fluorescence signals. A team from Universität Hamburg has now provided the experimental proof that an x-ray fluorescence spectrum, measured using the first lab prototype at the CFEL lab, looks exactly like it would if the spectrum had been measured in a synchrotron. However, the measuring time with the lab system is still a protracted affair-roughly about 15 times longer for the same quality than it would be at a synchrotron.

Cooperation with Siemens- Healthineers

It is exactly this factor of 15 that the team now wants to tackle in cooperation with a team headed by Dr. Jörg Freuedenberger from Siemens Healthineers and using the funding from the BMBF (ErUM-Transfer). Florian Grüner and Dr. Jörg Freudenberger already know each other from the earlier MAP cluster of excellence in Munich. Siemens Healthineers is the world’s leader for high-performance x-rays and they are precisely the people to realize the remaining factor.

-The close cooperation with Siemens- Healthineers will help us to master the large step from basic research to application in society. Only in this partnership can we reach the overarching goal of applying x-ray fluorescence imaging in many labs the world over-which will undoubtedly significantly increase the innovation potential of this imaging. After all, the more data available, the more ideas they generate,- says Florian Grüner.

The background

The team headed by Florian Grüner just recently published a study on the direct tracing of immune cells using x-ray fluorescence in the journal Scientific Reports. In close cooperation with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, the approach will provide important insights into the causes and dynamics of infectious, immune-based diseases. DESY, with its PETRA III synchrotron, has lent support to the research by providing measuring times and infrastructure. In 2 further BMBF projects, the bio-distribution of new potential agents to fight cancer will be measured and, with the help of AI, evaluated.

The TU Berlin and Universität Hamburg research teams were able to use the calls-for-transfer funding to develop and test innovative and special x-ray optics. In March 2023, Katharina Fegebank, Hamburg’s science senator, visited the first lab prototype.

Further funding also supports the research: Dr. Theresa Staufer, co-group head of the Universität Hamburg team, recently received funding from the Joachim Herz Stiftung to build the first lab prototype more compactly with the aim of reducing the costs of the lab system and facilitating fully automated operation.