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Fingerprinting Diseases

A new technology may allow doctors to extract “fingerprints” from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and identify specific cancers, multiple sclerosis and other diseases at their earliest stages.

A magnetic resonance imager creates scans of the body’s tissues and structures using a magnetic field and pulses of radio waves. Magnetic resonance fingerprinting (MRF) can gather much more information per measurement than a traditional MRI.

“This is a new quantitative way to do MRIs that would allow us to characterize tissues and diseases directly,” says Mark Griswold, PhD, radiology professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “Hopefully, it will give us a new window into diseases.”

Rather than scan and have radiologists look for differences in hue or intensity to identify healthy from unhealthy images, the researchers scan for physical properties simultaneously, evoking characteristics that differentiate one from another.

The researchers contend a full-body scan lasting just minutes would provide more information and ease data interpretation, making diagnostics less expensive than today’s scans.

“This has the potential to overcome
the basic limitations of the MRI and opens a new opportunity for research in imaging and for people to rethink data acquisition and data analysis,” says Dan Ma, a biomedical engineering graduate student and lead author of the team’s recent study, published in Nature.

The technology may make a quick MRI scan a regular part of annual check-ups. In lab testing and on patients, the team continues to improve image quality and reduce time required to differentiate tissues and fluid in the brain.

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