Public Release: 

Penn State College of Medicine awarded $6.9 million to create clearer images of body's interior

Grant will combine expertise from three academic medical centers, private company

Penn State

Clearer images of the body's interior may allow physicians to get to the bottom of their patients' medical problems faster.

A $6.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will allow a team of researchers led by Michael B. Smith, Ph.D., professor of radiology, Penn State College of Medicine, to study ultra high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and improve images of the interior of the body.

"Ultimately, this research will lead to improved MRI scanners that will produce clearer, more precise images of the brain, tumors, organs or other structures in the body," Smith said. "Improving the quality of MR images will allow physicians to more accurately diagnose and determine courses of treatment for their patients. This award represents a long-standing collaboration between Qing X. Yang, Ph.D., Christopher M. Collins, Ph.D., Timothy Mosher, M.D., and myself at the College of Medicine."

MRI is a non-x-ray technique using magnetic fields and radio frequency waves to visualize organs and other structures in the body. The strongest MRI magnet approved for human use is 3 tesla, but most standard high-field MRIs are 1.5 tesla. Investigators at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center will be studying MR imaging at magnetic field strengths ranging from 3 tesla to 11.7 tesla. A tesla is a measure of magnetic strength; the higher the tesla, the more signal there is to make MR images. However, development of higher magnetic field scanners has thus far been limited by distortion in the images. Interference, or static or radio frequency field distortion causes flaws or black spots - collectively called "artifacts" - on MRIs making them difficult to read.

The goal of this grant is to understand why these artifacts occur, and develop new techniques for obtaining artifact-free MR images at very high magnetic field strengths.

Tim Mosher, M.D., radiologist and a collaborating investigator on the study, offered an example of an artifact: "Air in the sinuses at the base of the skull causes a big black hole to appear on images of the brain. Oxygen in the air distorts the magnetic field, which in turn distorts the image. This limits a radiologist's ability to interpret the image and reach a diagnosis."

"This research will be used to develop artifact-correction techniques for high-speed functional MRI and distortion-free high field MRI of human, animal and cellular anatomy," Mosher said.

This project relies on collaboration between researchers at the Penn State Center for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Research led by Smith, the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research at University of Minnesota, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at the University of Florida and REMCON, a State College business specializing in magnetic field modeling software.

The team will work together in the following way: Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and at the School of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, University Park, will lead the theoretical work and technology development. REMCOM will develop software for theoretical modeling. University of Minnesota has an MRI with one of the highest magnetic fields available for human research studies. University of Florida will conduct imaging on an 11.7 tesla MRI and will do microscopy, a process similar to MRI but for cells and tissues.

This spring, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center will install and make available to patients a 3 tesla MRI scanner for clinical use - the first available for clinical use in Central Pennsylvania and one of the first in the country. The Medical Center will also add two of the standard 1.5 tesla scanners.

"Penn State College of Medicine has a long history of research in magnetic resonance imaging," Mosher said. "With the new three tesla scanner, we will be among the first team of physicians and researchers to determine when, depending on a patient's condition, the traditional MRI is adequate and when the ultra-high field MRI is necessary."

In addition, Penn State's Department of Radiology will become "filmless," meaning that all radiology images will be on a secure Web-based system. This will allow for a quicker response and improved communication among physicians who may be at different locations but who are consulting about a patient.

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In addition to Smith, Yang, Collins and Mosher, collaborators are: Paul J. Eslinger, Departments of Medicine and Behavioral Science, Penn State College of Medicine; John Yen, School of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State University, University Park; Richard W. Briggs, Departments of Radiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chemistry, University of Florida; Steven Blackband, Department of Neuroscience and Center for Structural Biology & National High Field Magnet Laboratory, University of Florida; Raymond Leubbers, REMCOM Inc., State College, Pa.; Kamil Urgurbil, Department of Radiology, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Minnesota; John Thomas Vaughan, Jr., Department of Radiology, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Minnesota; and Michael Garwood, Department of Radiology, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Minnesota.

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