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PET/MRI Scanning Technique Devised to Track 3-D Motion

Patient enters a PET scanner (National Institute of Mental Health)

Patient enters a PET scanner (National Institute of Mental Health)

Update, 25 July 2013. We learned today that Jinsong Ouyang at Mass General Hospital is the principal investigator on the project and led the research, not Chuan Huang, who presented the findings. Others working on the project include Jerome Ackerman, Yoann Petibon, Thomas Brady, and Georges El Fakhri.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston developed a technique to track moving images in 3-D with positron emission tomography (PET) scans combined with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Chuan Huang and colleagues from Mass General present their findings at this week’s annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging in Vancouver, Canada.

The methods developed by Huang and colleagues apply to combined PET/MRI scans where movements by the patient often create blurs or ghosts that impair the usefulness of the images. The combination of PET and MRI scans offer advantages of both techniques, providing the 3-D images of processes in PET scans with the soft-tissue detail of MRIs. PET/MRI scans lack, however, a technique for stabilizing the images in case of movements, which for example can happen in brain scans that can take an hour or more.

Huang’s team added radiofrequency (RF) solenoids, small metal coils placed on the patient that track movements during the scan. The coils, smaller than a dime and a few millimeters in diameter, are fixed on a structure placed on the patient, and emit a radio signal tracked during the scan. The signals, combined with the PET/MRI scans offer a 3-D field of motion that’s incorporated into the reconstructed image for clinicians. Huang says the approach is similar to capturing light rays from the moving object, then configuring it back to its original position.

In the conference paper, Huang and colleagues report on lab tests of the technology with phantom subjects, using a ventilator system to simulate motion. The RF coil was placed on the subject, and combined PET/MRI scans taken. The results showed a sharp reduction in blurs and ghosts caused by the subject’s movements compared to standard scans.

The researchers believe the new technique offers benefits for medical imaging compared to current clinical techniques that use a series of stills from the scan, which are then assembled to capture movement. While the method can show progression, it can also lose detail in the process occuring between the still images.

The technique still needs to be tested with real human patients. The engineers on the team are also developing wireless micro-coils to use with the technique, which they say are more patient friendly, easier to set up, and less expensive to manufacture.

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