Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a special technique used to produce high quality images of the inside of the human body, particularly soft tissues. It uses a strong magnetic field, radio frequency waves, and the logic of a computer to monitor the spinning energies within living cells. These specific and detailed images allow radiologists to diagnose abnormalities of the brain, spine, internal organs and joints and also offer great insights for medical investigators.
St. Boniface Hospital Research is a recognized leader in the MRI field and will soon have one of the largest facilities operating under one program in Canada. “We’ve come a long way since 1990 when an MRI unit was first installed at St. Boniface Hospital”, says Dr. Blake McClarty. “We currently have three new MRI scanners operating, all state-of-the art equipment.” The first unit replaces the original scanner with a new version from Siemens, a long-time strategic partner of the Research Centre. This unit is primarily used for clinical purposes. The other two are primarily research oriented – an interventional scanner and a head-only functional unit.
The Centre’s new 1.5 Tesla scanner offers enhanced image quality thanks to its capability to capture thinner slices and more angles in imaging sequences. In addition, it allows faster acquisition and additional types of acquisitions than previously available, all of which combine to provide improved diagnostic quality. The scanner enables the Centre to do echo-planar imaging, a sequence capable of producing images at video rates, which is particularly useful in the evaluation of early stroke.
The interventional MRI is designed in a C shape, as opposed to the conventional closed scanner used for diagnostic purposes. This allows physicians access to the patient during imaging. Dr. McClarty says the open scanner will be a research tool in support of eventual robotics-guided laser surgery. There are still research protocols to be developed with respect to the basic science involved in such surgeries. Any metallic substance will create an artifact on the image and render it unsuitable for executing precision activity, so all instruments must be non ferro-magnetic. This poses a challenge for researchers designing the robotic devices, as they cannot use typical motors, bearings and gears. A ceramic-based model is currently in development at the Centre and investigators will be working to develop techniques and expertise in controlling the distribution of laser energy deep within the body with MRI assistance. When these challenges can be solved, it will enable surgeons to remove brain tumors and tackle other complex surgeries with a degree of precision never before possible.
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