Cutting-edge MRI technology enhances radiology department’s standard of care
By Jack Mazurak
A magnetic resonance imaging machine with twice the power of existing units recently installed in the Department of Radiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center makes scans quicker for patients and gives physicians and researchers superior quality images.
“This new 3 Tesla MRI helps our clinicians and researchers see anatomic structures with far greater precision and contrast than do our current scanners,” said Dr. Timothy C. McCowan, professor and chair of radiology.
“It allows us to train medical students and residents on some of the latest magnetic resonance imaging technology in the field, and it helps maintain the radiology department’s leading standard of care.”
Contractors installed the Siemens 3 Tesla MRI in May, following a five-month renovation of an imaging room in the basement of University Hospital.
With the 3T’s capabilities, radiologists can tell low-grade brain tumors from high, make pre-surgery maps of spinal tumors to help guide surgeons, and use it to diagnose and guide treatment for epilepsy and stroke victims. Physicians and scientists plan to use it for many kinds of research, including liver fibrosis, obesity and neurological issues, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Majid Khan, associate professor of radiology and neuroradiology division director, said the new machine’s contrast is so sharp that, in some cases, radiologists can eliminate the use of an intravenously injected contrast agent. Those cases, especially in patients with impaired kidney function, would have needed the contrasting agent if they were scanned with the current 1.5T MRI machines.
It’s also considerably faster than the 1.5T MRIs, meaning patients don’t have to lie still nearly as long. That helps improve the patient experience, especially for children who would need either general anesthesia or sedation before scanning.
Khan said the new machine’s speed also reduces motion blur and leaves fewer artifacts, or impurities, in the images.
“Because the imaging quality is so great, it’s the new standard for imaging brain and spine,” Khan said. “It gives us exquisite images of the blood vessels in the head and neck. As well, epilepsy imaging has been redefined by the 3 Tesla MRI’s ability to provide finite anatomical details.”
With its so-called functional MRI capabilities, operators can scan patients or research participants’ brains to show in real-time the blood-oxygen-level contrasts that literally light up different areas of the brain during tests of memory, motor function, speech and most other neurological functions.
“These functions were possible with the 1.5T machines, but not as well-defined,” Khan said. “We’re training more of our radiology technicians on the 3T now, and as we get more trained, it will go into 24-hour use, probably in the next six-to-eight months.
“This advanced piece of equipment requires teamwork between clinicians, radiologist, technicians and commercial vendors – in our case Siemens – to generate the best possible images for improved patient care, the ultimate goal of our institution.”
The 3T MRI is extremely useful for advanced brain-tumor imaging and pre-surgical mapping, he said. Radiologists can map brain tumors before surgery to help neurosurgeons and lower the risks for complications. The department’s experts also can use the machine to pinpoint the best biopsy sites for maximum tissue yield, which helps in making pathological diagnoses, Khan said.
This summer, researchers with UMMC’s Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia Center began using the new scanner to take brain images for a population study of cognitive decline in aging. The higher-precision images will help the researchers track minute changes in the brains of hundreds of the study’s participants.
By combining that information with years of data on the participants’ lifestyles, health histories and genetics, MIND Center researchers hope to pinpoint risks and reasons for dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Sunit Sebastian, assistant professor of radiology and body imaging division director, said he and his colleagues use the machine for clinical and research applications in the abdomen and pelvis. Uses include imaging support for the Medical Center’s liver and kidney transplant program, high-resolution scans for inflammatory bowel disease, quantification of liver fat and, of course, tumor imaging.
“Yes, it is the latest and greatest, but when used for the right indications, it will yield optimal results,” Sebastian said. “We’re working with application specialists, our MR physicist Dr. Judy James, and our MRI technologists to develop specific and optimized protocols for use.
“It’s a Ferrari. You don’t need to use a sports car like that for everyday tasks. Our current machines are more than enough for most of the routine cases. But for certain complex cases, it can make all the difference.”
By taking images of tumors on vital organs and in the central body cavity, radiologists make precise maps that inform decisions on the best treatment courses – surgery, ablation, chemotherapy and so on.
“This MRI can provide a virtual biopsy of tumors, degree of liver fibrosis, and accurate assessment of prostate cancer,” Sebastian said. “The speed, image quality, contrast and resolution that it offers are quite spectacular.”