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Now Possible: MRI Film Of A Beating Heart

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Coupling existing MRI equipment with new mathematical methods and high-powered computers, German scientists have created MRI films of moving objects, such as a beating heart or a bending joint.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, have cut the time required for recording MRI images to one 50th of a second—20 milliseconds. This should make MRI exams easier and more comfortable for patients (who will no longer need to “hold still”), as well as much more informative and useful for medical personnel. According to an institute news release, the researchers believe the new method could improve the diagnosis of coronary heart disease and other heart problems, and could substitute for X-rays in guiding minimally invasive interventions.

“However, as it was the case with FLASH, we must first learn how to use the real-time MRI possibilities for medical purposes,” said Jens Frahm, PhD, head of the nonprofit Biomedical NMR Research Inc. at the Max Planck Institute. “New challenges therefore also arise for doctors. The technical progress will have to be translated into clinical protocols that provide optimum responses to the relevant medical questions.”

Dr. Frahm and his then-colleague Axel Haase, PhD, developed FLASH (the “fast low-angle shot” MRI method, which greatly shortened MRI measuring times) in 1985 at the institute. The new method, developed by Dr. Frahm, Martin Uecker, PhD, and Shuo Zhang, PhD, builds on FLASH and can create real-time film of a beating heart, without artifacts. “We developed a new mathematical reconstruction technique which enables us to calculate a meaningful image from data which are, in fact, incomplete,” Dr. Frahm said.

The measurements can be implemented on today’s MRI devices, but image reconstruction requires formidable computing power. The researchers used fast graphical-processing units that were developed for computer games and three-dimensional visualization. Even so, “our computer system requires about 30 minutes at present to process 1 minute’s worth of film,” Dr. Uecker said.

An article about the research was published online late last week in the journal NMR in Biomedicine.

Related seminar: Cardiac Imaging

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