Friday, March 23, 2007

Scientists on brink of breakthrough in MRI scanning

GRAEME SMITH March 22 2007

A quarter of a century ago an elderly Fraserburgh man with terminal cancer became the first in the world to undergo an MRI body scan in a development which has saved thousands of lives.

Now, just yards from that pioneering scanner, Aberdeen scientists and clinicians are on the brink of another global MRI breakthrough which could save thousands more.

A prototype of an MRI scanner has been developed which will help earlier diagnosis of cancer, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. Now funding has been approved to build one which can be used in clinical trials.

Since the first scan to highlight the tumours on the patient's liver, MRI has become one of modern medicine's most important diagnostic tools all over the world.

The developments by Professor John Mallard and his team in 1980 earned Aberdeen University tens of millions of pounds and it is hoped the latest breakthrough could provide similar financial rewards.

Professor David Lurie and a team of university and industrial collaborators - physicists, engineers, chemists, biologists and medical scientists - have been awarded £2.5m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to build the working scanner over the next four years.

Professor Lurie said standard MRI allows images from inside a patient's body to be taken using a single magnetic field which is set when the machine is installed. The new technique, which has proved successful in principle and in tissue trials, should allow images of the patient to be taken at several different magnetic fields.

"It's a bit like having at our disposal a hundred or more MRI scanners, each one operating at a different magnetic field - but all in the one scanner," said Professor Lurie.

"It will be of use in research and diagnosis into conditions such as Parkinson's disease, which involves proteins in the brain, Alzheimer's disease, which also involves proteins in the brain, multiple sclerosis and, potentially, cancer."

He said there was also potential for non-clinical uses, like measuring protein changes during food processing.

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