From a half hour to a minute in the MRI

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By using Stefan Skare’s method, it only takes a minute to obtain an image of the brain. This is great for patients who have difficulty lying still for an MRI or are claustrophobic. His innovation, EPI Mix, received Dagens Medicin's Athenapris (Athena Award) – Sweden's biggest award for clinical research.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows for examination of the body's soft tissues and discovery of, for example, bleeds or a tumor. The examination does not pose the same risks as regular x-rays, as it is not based on ionizing radiation. But, it takes time. On each occasion, hundreds of images need to be taken using different methods. During this time, the patient must lie completely still in the camera's tunnel for twenty to forty minutes.

Stefan Skare has concentrated on one imaging method (Echo Planar Imaging) which is the fastest.

Initially, I just wanted to test the concept. I didn't think it would be such a major breakthrough

"I have worked with MRI technology for a long time and with the problem of how difficult it is for patients to lie still for the camera. So, one day, I asked myself if there was any way to use rapid echo planar imaging (EPI) with other MRI types needed for brain scans."

In collaboration with his research colleague, Tim Sprenger, he wrote new software for the camera. It can create six different kinds of MR images from a single rapid EPI based image capture. In this way, the whole examination is faster and less sensitive to patient movement.

"Initially, I just wanted to test the concept. I didn't think it would be such a major breakthrough", says Stefan Skare.

The images are little distorted around the edges and have somewhat poorer resolution. But, according to Stefan Skare and Tim Sprenger's as yet unpublished study, in which radiologists provided diagnoses for one hundred patients, there was a 97 percent general agreement between the conventional MRIs and the EPI Mix. Now, the method is being tested at several hospitals throughout Sweden and at hospitals in South Korea and the USA. However, the method is limited to GE MRIs.

Stefan Skare is continuing to test and further develop the EPI Mix, together with radiographers, radiologists and others at Karolinska, to see if it maintains acceptable quality for clinical use with children and adults.

Text and photo: Catarina Thepper