When a person needs a thorough heart evaluation, a powerful MRI is rarely at the top of anyone’s list. It can be cumbersome and typically requires the patient to lie still within the scanner’s bore for about an hour as dozens of chest images are taken and processed. Move too much, and the process starts over.
Now, Philips has put forward a new method that allows today’s machines to capture all the cardiac data they need in just the time it takes the patient to hold a single breath.
Developed with researchers from the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research, this ultrafast scanning technique aims to make MRIs a much more palatable option for heart-focused scientific studies. And perhaps eventually, it will be an integral part of clinical care while also reducing overall healthcare costs and boosting patient comfort.
“In just over 20 seconds, all the information needed to know the shape and function of the heart has been acquired,” said Philips technical leader Javier Sánchez-González, who helped head up the collaboration.
The method relies on the fact that even when a patient is directed to hold their breath and lie still for a scan, their heart never stops beating. Existing phased-array MRI scanners can digitally isolate this movement from the rest of the chest cavity and focus efforts on quickly imaging the pulsating heart.
Previously, measuring an aspect of cardiac strength and performance, such as by gauging left or right ventricular ejection fraction, would require a 3D image of the heart muscle stitched together from a dozen or more 2D picture slices.
“We have shown in a large group of patients that cardiac MR obtained with this new technology obtains the same parameters as the usual technique but reduces by more than 90% the time that the patient has to be inside the machine,” said Borja Ibáñez, director of the clinical research department of the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research.
The team’s validation work, which included more than 100 patients, was previously published in the American College of Cardiology journal JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging.
Researchers also found that after mapping out the heart’s anatomy, a second held breath is all that is needed to capture any tissue damage or scarring suffered after a heart attack. An image from a different angle is taken, and a contrast agent injection is used. Both scans need less than one minute.
“It also adds the possibility to analyze the entire chest cavity in 3D and, using mathematical algorithms, to focus only on the heart and large vessels, thereby reducing the time of the study," said paper co-author Sandra Gómez-Talavera, a researcher at the Spanish center.
The researchers estimate the total amount of door-to-door time saved for a single patient scan could reach 75% to 80% compared to current methods.