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‘Jet Speed’ MRI Brain Scans Are 7 Times Faster

January 20, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Combining two technical tweaks has made functional MRI more than seven times faster, allowing a full, three-dimensional brain scan in less than half a second rather than the usual two to three seconds.

An international team of physicists and neuroscientists detailed its breakthrough in an article that appeared last month in the open-access online journal PLoS ONE.

“When we made the first images, it was unbelievable how fast we were going,” said first author David Feinberg, a physicist and adjunct professor at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute of the University of California, Berkeley. “It was like stepping out of a prop plane into a jet plane. It was that magnitude of difference.”

Feinberg, who is also president of the company Advanced MRI Technologies in Sebastopol, California, was quoted in a UC Berkeley news release.

fMRI uses magnetic fields to detect which areas of the brain are using oxygen at any given time, and thus presumably are engaged in neuronal activity. “The brain is a moving target, so the more refined you can sample this activity, the better understanding we will have of the real dynamics of what’s going on here,” said Marc Raichle, MD, a professor of radiology, neurology, neurobiology, biomedical engineering, and, oh, two or three other things at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Raichle was not associated with the research team but has followed Feinberg’s work.

The heretofore fastest MRI technique, echo planar imaging, uses a single pulse of radio waves to excite hydrogen atoms. In 2002, Feinberg proposed using two radio pulses rather than one. About the same time, researchers in the United Kingdom developed multiband excitation of several MRI slices using multiple coil detection. That technique, originally for spinal imaging, was recently adapted for fMRI.

Each of those advances provided a limited boost in speed. But combining the two was like flooring the accelerator in a car.

Faster MRIs are expected to assist greatly with the new Human Connectome Project, which is designed to map the connections of the brain through fMRI and structural MRI scans of 1,200 healthy adults.

“This discovery is a tremendous step in helping us accomplish the goals of the project,” said David Van Essen, PhD, a neurobiologist at Washington University and coleader of the project. “It’s vital that we get the highest quality imaging data possible so we can infer accurately the brain’s circuitry—how connections are established and how they perform.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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