Realising the potential of open MRI for dynamic studies of human anatomy and function

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Physics & Astronomy

Abstract

We use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as a powerful, non-invasive technique for the study of human anatomy, function and physiology, for instance to investigate how different treatments work and affect different people (experimental medicine and personalised medicine).

Unfortunately standard cylindrical-bore MRI scanners force people to lie in a confined, supine position, which has several unfortunate consequences. Most importantly for the work we are focusing on here, gravity and posture have significant effects on the human body, and so forcing people to lie down can confound physiological studies. However beyond this, some patients simply cannot lie flat (for instance those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease -COPD). Furthermore, many patients find the conventional MRI scanners claustrophobic and children often need to be sedated to stop them moving during MRI scanning.

We now have the chance to overcome these problems, since a recent major advance in magnet technology has allowed the development of new 'open MRI' systems, allowing people to sit, stand or lie down during scanning. The capabilities of the open scanners are currently limited because they cannot provide the ideal magnetic fields required for traditional MRI. However, in parallel, a revolution is occurring in MRI data acquisition and reconstruction, which can overcome the effects of these imperfect magnetic fields.

We will combine these two major innovations in MRI, to provide a paradigm shift in open MRI, allowing us to acquire both structural and functional biomedical information in dynamic, naturalistic body positions.

In this project we will focus on developing new technologies that will allow us to exploit the full capabilities of open MRI. We will design new RF coils that we use to collect the signal during MRI, we will develop a method to monitor the unintended variations in the magnetic fields that occur in the open scanner, and we will develop methods of collecting and reconstructing the imaging data to allow us to take account of these variations in field, and also subject motion.

Our goal is to acquire images at high speed to allow us to monitor the function of the body in seated or standing positions, for instance fast enough to observe the movement of the gastrointestinal tract, or to allow people to breath freely whilst we image their lungs.

We will develop generic solutions to address the challenges of open MRI, and then use them to produce tailored imaging approaches to address a series of specific biomedical questions that have been chosen as they need the advantages of open MRI. Specifically we will design solutions to study the following conditions:
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome for instance after viral infection including COVID19: it is particularly difficult for some respiratory patients to lie flat.
- Gastroparesis: this is a debilitating condition which prevents normal stomach emptying, but gastric emptying can be changed by lying down.
- Painful knee osteoarthritis: the knee is best studied in a standing position, but rapid scanning is required since weight-bearing can be painful for these patients.

Publications

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