Q&A: Leading researcher shows how 7T MRI is pushing the boundaries

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In June, Philips Medical Systems announced the opening of an ultra high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research center at its Cleveland facility. The state-of-the-art Philips Achieva 7.0T (tesla) research system installed at the center is the only whole body 7.0T MRI system installed in a corporate environment. The primary objective of the research is to further MRI capabilities to better understand and treat degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, Philips said.

The Ohio State University's Imaging Research team of the Department of Radiology collaborated with Philips on the 7.0T installation as part of the State of Ohio's Third Frontier Program, which involves a number of institutions through Ohio's Wright Center of Innovation project. Health Imaging News sat down with Professor Michael V. Knopp, MD, PhD, chairman and professor of the Department of Radiology and Principle Investigator, The Ohio State University (OSU), to get his perspective on the program.

Can you give us a brief history of your involvement with this research project?

This project, together with Philips Medical Systems, is part of an effort by the state of Ohio establishing the Wright Center of Innovation. That has been a highly competitive effort by the state of Ohio to select cutting-edge opportunities for bio-technology. I wrote a proposal to the Center to jointly develop and implement the Philips ultra-high field MR with the long-term vision of establishing this 7.0T (telsa) research system as a clinically feasible imaging methodology. The proposal was awarded an overall $17 million grant. Philips has been a commercial partner in this and has delivered on their commitment to place an MRI team at the facility outside Cleveland. It's been a wonderful collaboration so far.

How are using the system at your facility?

We have placed the [7T] system fully within the clinical facility. The Philips Achieva 3.0T is next to it and also we have put a very unique facility together which enables us to image patients, volunteers but also veterinary patients and this has been an additional collaboration with the Veterinary School which is also very important for us in some of the validation work as well as bringing this capabilities for human and other species.

Do you do comparative studies of the two systems to measure the differences?

What we will do in the future is correlative studies to compare the advantages of the 7.0T compared to the 3.0T and 1.5T. And also again along the theme of how we can translate some of the observations and capabilities we develop with the 7.0T back to the lower field strength systems.

What are the specific advantages of 7.0T MRI compared to other modalities?

There are a couple of important components which allowed this paradigm to develop. First, based on the limited work on advanced MR systems like ours it is now well established that the ultra-high fields with 7.0T are safe. The FDA declared last year that fields up to 8 Tesla are considered a non-significant risk. That is a very important milestone. And that decision was based on human data from various sites including ours. The second component is the rapid evolution of high-field and ultra high-field systems. The imaging physics and the understanding of the advantage of higher fields have evolved on a broad scale. Thirdly, in recent years the knowledge base of genetics and molecular biology is tremendously increased. We have new disciplines such as molecular imaging and nanotechnology technology that have rapidly evolved.

One of the challenges we have recognized is that we are at a cross roads as to how we translate some of the exciting work our communities can do in rodents, for example, to advanced applications in humans. When you analyze this, then the ultra-high field stretch up to 7.0T becomes a pivotal, enabling capability to bring forward new functions and molecular capabilities into non-invasive imaging and spectroscopy. We can do this with MR. The 7.0T, or ultra-high yield MR, has been the missing link in facilitating and implementing the advanced molecular imaging and assessment using nanocompounds, for example, in humans.

From a practical treatment standpoint, where will this lead?

Structural imaging means resolution and has been the basis for imaging for a long time. We are looking for what something looks like and the higher the field strength the better the resolution. So, the structural information