New technology to help doctors image lungs

Sydney, April 18 (Inditop) New technology pioneered by Australian researchers will help doctors image a patient’s lungs and respiratory diseases.

Scientists from the University of Queensland (UQ) have successfully developed the country’s first hyperpolarised helium gas for use in human MRIs.

Marlies Friese said the UQ team recently produced sufficient gas for a human subject to inhale, and created an image of the person’s airways.

“The gas is helium-3, it is inert, it is not radioactive and does not react with the body so it is safe to inhale. This type of image is useful because we can obtain data on gas flow and breathing- we are the first group in Australia to achieve this,” she said.

“It can show how gases flow in the lungs, and whether regions of the lung are ventilated normally, abnormally or not at all.

“Now we are able to use our locally produced gas, the technology will become more accessible to local researchers and for research of diseases such as asthma.”

Friese said when imaging the lung or other areas where the water content was low, conventional MRI had proved inadequate.

“Hyperpolarised helium MRI uses a special technique through which the nuclear magnetic moments of helium atoms are aligned so that MRI signals are enhanced by up to six orders of magnitude,” a UQ release quoted her as saying.

“The hyperpolarised effect is relatively short lived – it lasts up to 80 hours depending on how the gas is stored and transported, with the effectiveness decreasing during that time.”

In the future, the method could potentially be used for diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory diseases within a clinical setting.