Siemens, Case Western partner to develop MRI fingerprinting

MR fingerprinting image--Courtesy of Siemens

Researchers are aiming to make diagnostic magnetic resonance images as uniquely identifiable as a fingerprint is in forensic use. Imaging giant Siemens and professors at Case Western Reserve University are working to do just that under a partnership that's recently been extended. The initial imaging software is already in use on select Siemens scanners since January and a pair of European universities.

Analysis of MR images is typically qualitative. A radiologist observes the contrast between tissues, rather than creating measurements of specific tissue properties. MRF is expected to enable the quantitative measurement of several parameters at once, many of them specific tissue properties.

There are quantitative approaches in use to measure specific aspects including diffusion, fat/iron deposits, perfusion or relaxation times. But current approaches often require a significant amount of scan time with a high variability of results with different scanners and users.

Siemens' interest in MRF stems from its desire to improve reproducibility of results across scanners and institutions, thereby achieving greater monitoring accuracy and more effective patient evaluations.

"The goal of MR Fingerprinting is to specifically identify and characterize individual tissues and diseases," said Mark Griswold, professor of radiology at Case Western Reserve and program chair at this year's International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine meeting in Singapore. "But to try to get there, we've had to rethink a lot of what we do in MRI."

Siemens and Case Western Reserve have been working together for more than 30 years. The research project uses the Siemens Magnetom Skyra 3-tesla system, but is expected to extend over a number of MR scanners of various strengths. The initial results of the collaboration are being tested at the University Hospital Essen in Germany and the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

"The most innovative applications can only be brought to life through the collaborative efforts of industry and research," said Dr. Christoph Zindel, head of the Magnetic Resonance business at Siemens Healthcare. Imaging is a primary focus for Siemens Healthcare, which is operating as a separate business within the larger company and was recently rebranded "Siemens Healthineers" as a somewhat clumsy tip of the hat to the company's interest in being driven by innovative engineering. The company has said it is looking to expand its healthcare business.

The MRF technology doesn't acquire MR images in the traditional way. It gathers tissue information based on the signal evolution from each voxel, a particular coordinate within 3-dimensional space. It acquires these in a pseudo-random fashion and then compares them to a database to find the best signal evolution for each voxel. This data is then put in context of the MR-related features of the associated tissue such as T1, T2, relative spin density, B0 and diffusion.

"The MR Fingerprint technique lets us see more details than the standard imaging process, and has the potential to redefine MRI," said Siegfried Trattnig, Professor at the Center of Excellence for High Field Magnetic Resonance at the Medical University of Vienna on initial research studies involving patients with malignant brain tumors and low-grade gliomas.

"In this way, MRF could help us, as radiologists, to make the paradigm shift from qualitative to quantitative imaging and to incorporate quantitative data into our daily routine," he concluded.

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