Science & Tech

Lung imaging method allows visualization of airways

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Creates clear images of lung airways in action

A new dynamic imaging technique described by Mitchell Albert, Harvard Medical School assistant professor of radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Angela Tooker, MIT graduate student; Kwan Soo Hong, Harvard Medical School research fellow in radiology at BWH; and colleagues in the May 2003 Radiology promises to open new venues in research on lung diseases by creating clear MRI images of lung airways during breathing. In this technique, helium gas is polarized by bombardment with laser-polarized rubidium atoms and maintained in a magnetic field. One liter of the gas mixed with nitrogen is pumped into a bag and rushed to the next room to a patient lying inside an MRI scanner. As the patient breathes in, the MRI scanner records two images per second to create a movie during one breath. The technique has promise for advancing knowledge of an array of lung conditions. Traditional static images do not provide good visualization of the blockages and constrictions of the airways caused by diseases like asthma. “Researchers and physicians have never actually seen the bronchoconstriction and airway closure in images,” Albert said, “so they had to guess what they look like.”