Kristopher Sturgis

March 14, 2016

3 Min Read
How Krypton Could Make for Better MRI Lung Images

UK researchers take MRI imaging to the next level with a new scanning method that provides high resolution images of lung disease and pulmonary tissue. 

Nottingham MRI krypton

Images produced by the new technique (Courtesy of University of Nottingham)

Kristopher Sturgis

The new imaging technique  uses specially treated krypton gas that can be inhaled and used as a contrast agent to reveal new areas of the lung on an MRI scan. The new process was developed at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Center at the University of Nottingham.

Thomas Meersmann, chair in translational imaging at the imaging center, believes that krypton gas could revolutionize pulmonary imaging--perhaps even leading someday to detailed lung imaging technology that would not need an MRI scanner.

"Unlike other hyperpolarized noble gases, krypton may provide pulmonary diagnostics without the need for an MRI scanner," he says. "Hyperpolarized krypton may therefore be used as a screening agent in low-cost, bench top devices. This method will now be adapted for a commercial generator of hyperpolarized krypton. This will require some developmental work, but the concept works well and reproducibly."

For years MRI imaging techniques have used hydrogen protons as molecular targets to provide a picture of the body--a method that has been less than ideal when imaging the lungs given their low tissue density, and the fact that they are constantly full of air. This new technique, officially called "inhaled hyperpolarized gas MRI" uses lasers to align the nuclei of a noble gas so it can be seen on an MRI scan.

"The development of laser pumped noble gases enables structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging of the lung and airways," Meersmann says.

Laser pumping does not change the benign nature of the non-toxic and non-radioactive noble gas isotopes, and enables high spatial resolution imaging of the gas phase within the lung and airways after inhalation of these hyperpolarized contrast agents, according to Meersmann.

While much of the current attention is focused on hyperpolarized helium and xenon -- which allows for a number of successful imaging protocols -- the further development of hyperpolarized pulmonary MRI techniques is also a pursuit for novel sources of contrast that can probe different structural and functional aspects of the lungs in health and disease.

"Our team at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Center in Nottingham has pioneered MRI with hyperpolarized krypton that provides a very unique type of pulmonary MRI contrast of diseases affecting the lung surfaces," he says. "In a previous study, our team has even shown that hyperpolarized krypton MRI contrast is indicative to an emphysema model."

As their research moves forward, Meersmann says the group plans to finish upgrading the center's large 7 Tesla scanner, an ultra high magnetic field whole body MRI scanner that could incorporate hyperpolarized krypton work in body scans. The aim is to begin trials on healthy human volunteers within the next two years, and hopefully the technique can be rolled out to healthcare providers soon after.

"The current diagnostic technology in our hospitals has not substantially advanced for many decades," Meersmann said. "This is an exciting research field that we are just beginning to explore. If successful, the screening procedure will help identify the patients that should be scanned with the more costly MRI methods using xenon or krypton." 

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at BIOMEDevice Boston, April 13-14, 2016.

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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About the Author(s)

Kristopher Sturgis

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.

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