“We’re all magnets,” says Youngkyoo Jung, Ph.D., the inventor of a new imaging method to track and measure blood flow accurately in the brain.
“The body is made up of water acting like passive magnets,” he explains. “An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, can identify the difference between magnetically labeled and non-labeled blood in the body, providing a very clear image of the arterial network.”
Current MRI methods are limited in their capacity to locate quickly and effectively vascular abnormalities within the brain. They require infusing contrast agents into blood vessels to pinpoint arteries, and multiple scans are often needed. They also lack the capability to identify smaller vessels.
“Locating small blood vessels within the brain is a challenge of modern imaging technology,” says Jung. “Having a clear picture of the brain’s microvascular network is important because irregularities in the smaller vessels can often affect the brain’s function.”
Fourier Encoded Arterial Spin Labeling Creates Faster Scans, Increased Resolution
Jung is using the body’s built-in magnetic fields to improve the MRI technique. He has developed software that uses a non-invasive method called Fourier encoded arterial spin labeling to locate the vascular regions where arteries supply blood.
“By applying a continuous radiofrequency pulse to a patient’s neck for about two seconds, we magnetically label the patient’s own blood,” explains Jung. “The labeled blood that flows to the brain can be identified by MRI to give us an exquisitely clear map of the brain’s vascular structure, down to even the smallest vessels.”
The result is a faster, clearer and more accurate brain scan.
Delivering Time and Money
Fourier encoded arterial spin labeling takes about five minutes, less than half the time of a conventional MRI, and results in scans with improved resolution. It’s not only faster but has the potential to be more cost effective, since a patient doesn’t need contrast agents or multiple MRI scans to locate arterial abnormalities, as is often the case with current imaging methods.
Jung says that this technique has the potential to improve the diagnosis of a number of brain maladies, like stroke and cancer.
“For these patients, accurate identification of the brain’s vascular framework will be critical for diagnosis and evaluation following surgery.”
But, says Jung, the real key is using this method to prevent or to reduce the risk of disease from occurring in the first place. “This method holds promise as a screening tool to identify patients at high risk for stroke, so that interventions can take place before the occurrence of a catastrophic.”
An Atlas of the Brain
Jung is also using the new imaging software to generate an atlas of the vascularity of the human brain. Using patient scans and measurements from more than 100 healthy subjects, he has collected data to create a detailed “vascular territory map” of which arteries supply blood to various parts of the brain.
“Although there are some variations in blood flow from one person to another, common pathways exist,” says Jung. “Having a standard manual of the brain’s vasculature could provide researchers and physicians vital information about brain function. My hope is that this tool will guide clinical decision-making and improve brain health for patients.”
With the imaging software development complete and the atlas underway, Jung’s next step is to explore partnerships with MRI manufacturers. “We’re changing the way scans are done so that they are faster, safer, less expensive and, overall, more accurate,” says Jung. “This technology has the potential to be both life-saving and preventative for a multitude of neurologic disorders.”
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