An MRI scanner has been adapted to capture moving as well as still images for the first time.
UK researchers have taken images of diseased body parts in four dimensions — time, width, height and depth. The images will help clinicians diagnose diseases in constantly moving vital organs, such as the heart and the lungs. At present, still MRI scans of moving bodily organs appear blurred.
Computer models that describe how the organs move are overlaid on still images taken from MRI scans. By combining the two, researchers are able to scan moving parts.
The researchers are also building models to describe how different organs should behave when they are functioning normally, said Prof David Hawkes, director of the five-university Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) specialising in improving medical images. ‘In near-imaging we are able to build detailed models of certain structures within the brain and use them to automatically drive brain images, such as for the study of dementia.’
Clinicians need to understand how the brain works so they can diagnose problems more accurately. Pharmaceutical companies must understand the brain so that they can tell whether drugs designed to lessen the effects of, for example, dementia will be successful.
All five universities — Imperial College, King’s College, UCL and Oxford and Manchester — receive funding from drugs companies, including AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline.
But the IRC’s work goes beyond making MRI scanners more effective. Researchers have also developed models for ultrasound scans so that treatments for breast cancer can be more accurately assessed during clinical trials. By using these improved models, clinicians should find it easier to tell whether a tumour is malignant or benign. If an operation is needed, the improved scanning technology will enable the clinician to locate the tumour more accurately.
Hawkes said: ‘We have been bringing together x-ray scans, MRI and some functional imaging that makes certain tissues brighter in the image.’
The researchers are also seeking to understand how the human body works from a molecular level up to a millimetre scale. By plotting what the human body does on such a small scale, they are able to help drugs companies better target disease and illnesses.
One model that has already been proved to be effective describes how the brain regulates the flow of blood to the head. By rotating volunteers through 360º, researchers were able to understand how the brain continues to receive a steady supply of blood at all times. They measured blood pressure and used an ECG to build the model. Having developed the working model, drugs companies can now more accurately assess treatments designed to limit the effects of strokes.