One Big MRI

Ed. Note: The following is a press release from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

August 28, 2006 -- Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine will soon be armed with a new, cutting-edge technological tool in the field of radiology - a 7 Tesla whole-body Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) system. Penn's Department of Radiology will become the first in the Greater Philadelphia region to acquire one of these ultra high-field scanners. Only a handful of them are in operation elsewhere in the United States.

Ravinder Reddy, PhD, Professor of Radiology and Science Director of the MMRRCC at Penn, who is also the principal investigator leading the effort in high-field imaging, explains why this is such a powerful addition for research, "Since the inception of MRI for clinical imaging and research over two decades ago, the magnetic field strength of clinical imagers has increased 20-fold from 0.15 Tesla initially to 3T currently, with each increase in field strength yielding new diagnostic capabilities. Initial results from a few laboratories suggest MRI at even higher fields holds great promise to provide insight into structure, function and physiology in humans not obtainable at lower fields. An ultra high-field magnet will further improve sensitivity, speed, and image resolution."

Reddy adds, "This system will also pave the way to image other nuclei in the human body such as sodium (23Na), phosphorus (31P), oxygen (17O) and carbon (13C). Imaging these nuclei may provide disease-specific molecular and functional information unobtainable on conventional MRIs. With further technique development, we can detect disease in a way never seen before."

The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), just announced it is awarding Penn a High-End Instrumentation grant of $2 million toward the purchase of the whole-body 7T MRI system. The NCRR grants are used to fund cutting-edge equipment required to advance biomedical research and increase knowledge of the underlying causes of human disease.

This new system at Penn will be utilized primarily by four centers: the Metabolic Magnetic Resonance Research and Computing Center (MMRRCC), the Center for Functional Neuroimaging (CfN), the Center for Molecular Imaging (CEMI), and the Laboratory for Structural NMR Imaging (LSNI). Biomedical imaging research in these four laboratories covers a wide range of applications and innovative methodologies involving functional brain imaging for basic and clinical neuroscience, the study of neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders, molecular imaging for cancer detection and treatment monitoring, novel approaches to cardiovascular disease and tissue perfusion, arthritis and osteoporosis. This ultra high-field magnet facility will also serve as open resource for the entire research community at Penn and other neighboring institutions. Details on how to access this magnet system will be made available once the facility has become operational.

Reddy comments, "The higher the field strength, the better the quality of the image, helping radiologists to improve diagnostic accuracy and detect incipient disease."

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has already assigned a space for the new 7T system on its campus; it will be housed in the lower level of the Stellar-Chance Laboratories. Reddy will serve as the director of the high-field center. Reddy hopes to order the scanner by the end of 2006, then prepare the site by installing a magnetic shield, and finally installing the magnet by mid-2007. The project will be funded through a combination of internal and external sources including the NCRR grant.

"We're moving technology forward with our expertise and knowledge here at Penn. This new high-field system will be used for research and development and eventually clinical applications," said Nick Bryan, MD, PhD, Chair of Radiology at Penn, "We have a strategic plan for this. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at Penn will use this cutting-edge technology. We view this is an investment in our radiological future."

Penn has a rich history of being a pioneering institution in the field of radiology, specifically in MR technology development and translational research for biomedical applications. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was the first hospital in the nation to get and use an MRI back in 1984.