Low-Field MRI Enhances Lung, Cardiac Imaging

A study by NIH researchers found that a high-performing, low-field MRI system could improve lung and cardiac imaging.

Researchers reached this conclusion by modifying the magnetic field strength of a commercial MRI system from 1.5 Tesla (T) to 0.55T—the unit of measurement that represents the strength of the magnet. After testing the system on objects that mimicked human tissue, they then conducted MR scans of the lung on both healthy volunteers and patients with lung cysts. The result: enhanced images of the lung.

“MRI of the lung is notoriously difficult and has been off-limits for years because air causes distortion in MRI images,” said Adrienne Campbell-Washburn, Ph.D., a staff scientist in the Cardiovascular Branch at NHLBI and the study’s author. “A low-field MRI system equipped with contemporary imaging technology allows us to see the lungs very clearly. Plus, we can use inhaled oxygen as a contrast agent. This lets us study the structure and the function of the lungs much better.”

Heart imaging also improved, and the researchers decreased the risk of device heating, which has hampered the field for many decades. The researchers said that the system opens up the possibility of new clinical uses, including imaging of the brain, spine, abdomen, and to study sleep and speech disorders.

“We continue to explore how MRI can be optimized for diagnostic and therapeutic applications,” said Robert Balaban, scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research and chief of the Laboratory of Cardiac Energetics at NHLBI.

The study, funded by NHLBI, published in the journal Radiology.

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