New technology to substantially speed up MR scans

June 05, 2018
By Dr. Lawrence N. Tanenbaum

Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the dominant method for diagnosis of central nervous system and musculoskeletal system disorders. MR provides more information about tissues such as the brain, joints and other organ systems than other imaging modalities (e.g., computed tomography). However, MR is a somewhat time-consuming technique, and the lengthy scan times are poorly tolerated by patients. Reducing scan time leads to increased efficiency, a minimized need for repeat scans and related costs, and improved patient comfort and satisfaction.

MR scan times range from as little as 15 minutes to as much as 60 minutes, depending on the type of study being performed. Patients need to remain motionless in a closed space, and report discomfort and suffer partly due to the noise generated by the scanner. In 2015, Baran et al. published that 68 percent of MR patients reported a medium or high level of anxiety. Certain populations, such as children and claustrophobic patients, are more prone to motion, and can require sedation to tolerate MR imaging. In general, shorter scans mean better patient experience and less motion artifact. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology in July 2015, repeated scans due to patient motion can easily cost a hospital up to $100,000 in lost annual revenue. Reducing scan time improves patient comfort and may avoid a substantial portion of lost income.

With declining reimbursement rates, hospitals and imaging practices have a renewed emphasis on workflow and cost-effectiveness. Scanner productivity and throughput have become increasingly important. Shorter scan times increase the number of potential scans per day and thus reduce the cost per scan. Novel as well as traditional methods for reducing MR scan times have an increasingly essential role in today's clinical practice.

In general, in MR there is an inherent trade-off between scan time and image quality. Image resolution, contrast, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and appearance of artifacts, among other characteristics, can be adversely affected when scan time is decreased. A new machine learning-aided iterative image reconstruction technology, iQMR (intelligent Quick MR), developed by Medic Vision Imaging Solutions can allow significant reduction in MR scan times while maintaining image integrity. iQMR is based on Medic Vision's patented volumetric image processing algorithms that dramatically improve SNR and enhance the images. Images from highly accelerated scans are processed by the iQMR software, which deconstructs the entire scan set into 3D blocks ("patches"), extracts their feature sets, and using similarities between the patches and a proprietary statistical model, differentiates between noise and signal. The result is shorter scan times with maintenance of, or even improvement upon, routine image quality. iQMR was cleared by FDA for use in the U.S. market earlier this month.

In the coming ASNR conference in Vancouver B.C., we will present the results of research that evaluated the potential of iQMR in shortening MR scan time ("Machine Learning-based Algorithm Allows Significant Reduction in MR Scan Times"). In the IRB-approved study held at three different sites, a total of 37 patients were scanned using the site's routine clinical brain protocols as well as ~30 percent scan time-reduced variants. Three 1.5T scanners were involved in the study (Philips-Ingenia, Siemens-Aera and GE Signa HDxt). Images acquired with the accelerated protocols were post-processed with iQMR and compared with the corresponding routine protocols. Independent, blinded, side-by-side comparisons of diagnostic quality, visual image quality, grey-white (GW) matter differentiation and presence of artifacts were performed by six neuroradiologists from four institutions. The results proved that iQMR processing could restore the approximately 30 percent faster scans to essential equivalence to the routine, longer studies. The study concluded that iQMR processing can produce clinically acceptable, routine quality MR images at significantly shorter scan times.

Dr. Lawrence N. Tanenbaum
The new iQMR allows reduced MR scan time, for all vendors and models of MR scanners, while maintaining image quality, thus providing substantial benefits for patients and operators of imaging practices alike. Patients enjoy shorter scans and as a result are less prone to move. MR operators reduce costs, increase efficiency and productivity and enhance clinical services and competitiveness.

Medic Vision, an Israel-based company specializing in image enhancement of diagnostic imaging, is known as the manufacturer of SafeCT, which enhances the image quality of low-dose CT scans in terms of both SNR and low-contrast detectability. The company's new iQMR combines the knowledge and expertise gained in SafeCT with new 3D iterative image reconstruction algorithms, to significantly improve SNR of MR images.