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UA creating faster, more accurate MRI technologies

Posted at 6:36 AM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-04 08:51:14-05

Lying perfectly still for an hour in an MRI machine can be really tough, especially for patients with Parkinson's disease. Using a $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a team of University of Arizona researchers are creating faster MRI technologies to accommodate challenging patient populations.

"Most importantly we don't want to keep the patient in the scanner forever. So we want to get higher resolution information quickly, and accurately using new technology," said Dr. Nan-kuei Chen, the lead researcher and a biomedical engineering associate professor at UA.

Scan times will be reduced from 40-60 minutes to close to 15 minutes, or even shorter depending on a patient's condition. The team wants to create technologies that will give doctors more information about the stage of a disease, even allowing earlier diagnoses.

"We know that the disease of PD starts usually 10 or 15 years before the motor symptoms start. So something in the brain is happening, you know, long before the motor symptom appears. So we want to evaluate new technologies and see if we can use new technology to detect brain signal abnormality in the early stage of Parkinson's Disease," said Chen.

Patients with conditions, like Parkinson's, who move frequently, can alter the accuracy of their MRI scans.

"It's very difficult for them to stay inside for 30 minutes or 60 minutes. It's very uncomfortable for a seriously ill patient to stay in an MRI scan for a long period of time. Even for a healthy volunteer, its more pleasant to stay in for a shorter period of time," said Chen.

The team consists of about 10 researchers from UA's campus and surrounding area. One expert, has known Chen from his days as a grad student and is very excited to be a part of this research.

"My graduate research focused on developing advanced MRI techniques, but they were more for body applications, like the imagining the liver. So its interesting and its exciting to be able to translate those approaches to the brain, and it comes with its own challenges," said post-grad researcher, Mahesh Keerphivasan.

A system that helps validate what is seen on MRI imagery is a device called TMS, which stands for trans-cranial magnetic stimulation. And is a big part of this project.

"Because we are going to use the TMS to validate the brain circuitry. So currently we're using that to understand brain function and also delve out some therapeutic particles for people with Parkinson's disease," said Ying-hui Chou, the director of Brain Imagining and TMS.

To improve the quality of the MRI experience would be a major step for physicians and patients.

"We are hoping, very quickly, that we can start to see some exciting premiere results and starting to acquire some data from patients," said Chen.