The NMR methods that are used to characterize inanimate porous media measure relaxation times and related phenomena and material transport, fluid displacement and flow. Biological tissues are comprised of multiple small, fluid-filled compartments, such as cells, that restrict the movement of the bulk solvent water and whose constituents influence water proton relaxation times via numerous interactions with macromolecular surfaces. Several of the methods and concepts that have been developed in one field of application are also of great value in the other, and it may be expected that technical developments that have been spurred by biomedical applications of MR imaging will be used in the continuing study of porous media. Some recent specific studies from our laboratory include the development of multiple quantum coherence methods for studies of ordered water in anisotropic macromolecular assemblies, studies of the degree of restriction of water diffusion in cellular systems, multiple selective inversion imaging to depict the ratios of proton pool sizes and rates of magnetization transfer between proton populations, and diffusion tensor imaging to depict tissue anisotropies. These illustrate how approaches to obtain structural information from biological media are also relevant to porous media. For example, the recent development of oscillating gradient spin echo techniques (OGSE), an approach that extends our ability to resolve apparent diffusion changes over different time scales in tissues, has also been used to compute surface to volume measurements in assemblies of pores. Each of the new methods can be adapted to provide spatially resolved quantitative measurements of properties of interest, and these can be efficiently acquired with good accuracy using fast imaging methods such as echo planar imaging. The community of NMR scientists focused on applications to porous media should remain in close communication with those who use MRI to study problems in biomedicine, to their mutual benefits.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Professor Cesare Borgia for the invitation to contribute this paper, Mr Xiaoxian Ma for assistance with the animal studies, and the NCI and NINCDS (NIH) for financial support of the studies on tissue relaxation and diffusion. MD also thanks the Whitaker Foundation for financial support