MR/MEG hybrid scanner improves accuracy for cancer and brain disease detection

MR/MEG hybrid scanner improves accuracy for cancer and brain disease detection

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 20, 2020
Alzheimers/Neurology MRI Stroke
The scanner uses MEG and MR imaging to produce more reliable and accurate scans of the brain and its activity
Researchers at Aalto University have developed a new scanner for brain imaging that combines capabilities found in magnetoencephalography (MEG) and an unconventional type of MR imaging.

The technology was developed in two EU projects and is now being implemented in a new $1 million project funded by Business Finland, that aims to use the scanners to enhance accurate detection of cancer tissue and diagnoses for various brain diseases in humans.

“More accurate measurements can be helpful in locating epileptic brain activity before surgery,” said professor Risto Ilmoniemi, head of Aalto University department of neuroscience and biomedical engineering, in a statement. “The new device is also expected to help distinguish brain tumours from healthy tissue more accurately prior to cancer surgery. In addition, the device will increase our understanding of the connections between the different brain regions. This will help us understand abnormal brain activity in connection with, for example, depression or the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.”

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The scanner is expected to improve accuracy in cases of stroke, autism and brain injuries.

Its use of MEG sensors outside the head to measure tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain provides information on the functioning of the nervous system, while MR produces pictures of the brain’s structure. Together, the two enable the device to produce more reliable and accurate images of brain activity.

It also uses superconducting sensors called SQUIDS, and possesses superconductive capabilities in other components. In addition, the technology is designed to have a more open device structure, in which the patient lies on a bed equipped with a helmet-shaped slot for the head, as opposed to conventional MR imaging in which a patient is placed in a long, confined tube and the scanner produces loud, unsettling noises.

A prototype requires sensitive components that are compatible with one another. Another necessary resource is liquid helium, in which the temperature is only four degrees above absolute zero. Despite the distance of the helium to the patient’s head being just a few centimetres, however, the individual experiences normal room temperatures.

The most difficult challenge is making the extremely sensitive magnetic field measurements while applying strong magnetic pulse sequences in MR imaging, with everything having to be designed in a way that is free of magnetic noise, so that the noise does not cover the measured signals.

“As the technology differs from conventional MR in all its parts, we have had to design various new devices and solutions”, said Koos Zevenhoven, who leads the research group that develops the prototype’s instrumentation and methods, in a statement.

The SQUIDs were developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

The researchers aim to develop and commercialize the technology by the end of 2021.

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