Unlocking the potential of medical imaging
Hospitals across Europe can use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine our organs and soft tissue such as breasts and brains, helping doctors to diagnose problems and plan treatment. Another sophisticated scanning technology known as positron emission tomography (PET) is used to diagnose diseases such as cancer by detecting gamma rays from ‘tracer’ molecules introduced to the body prior to scanning.
The latest leap forward in the innovative field of medical imaging came in 2010 when a hybrid PET/MRI scanner became available. This offers the best of both machines, giving doctors a combined image that shows the form and function of the patient’s body, without adding radiation to the patient as is the case with PET/CT. However, getting the most out of this new imaging system required, and still requires, a lot of work by experts in diverse fields. “When PET/MRI technology became available, many questions were still unanswered,” says Professor George Loudos, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Technological Educational Institute of Athens, Greece.
“Work was needed to address engineering issues, software tasks, and to develop and test new tracer molecules that would combine the power of MRI and PET imaging,” he explains.
Bringing these scientific fields together gave engineers and software specialists a bridge to clinical medicine where their work will be applied, as well as providing access to multimodal data. Similarly, it offered clinicians access to the expertise of physicists and biologists working with experimental animal models.
The future of the field looks bright. One young researcher from the network, Dr Liliana Caldeira of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, has been awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship to advance her work in this field.
Participants in this COST Action successfully attracted around €18 million in EU-funding to advance their work on PET/MRI, with strong industrial participation from companies large and small.
The network established an international conference, which is now in its fifth year, and expects its members to contribute to the development of a new PET/MRI scanner within two to five years through the TRIMAGE research project. Participants in TRIMAGE include companies that produce PET/MRI systems and detectors used in scanners, along with a small electronics developer named Weeroc.
Major suppliers of PET/MRI machines, including Siemens, Philips, Bruker and Mediso have attended the annual conference, as well as specialist firms that provide components and distribution services. The conference features an interactive industry session where companies provide updates on their activities, and members of the COST network also present details of their work. Smaller start-ups were particularly active in meetings of the COST TD1007 working groups.
“Younger participants are developing their own networks through this work,” says Professor Loudos. “It’s a chance for them to establish connections within their own field and beyond.”
Looking ahead, several participants in the network are seeking to continue their collaboration through new COST Actions in areas such as PET/MRI hardware development and the potential for PET ‘inserts’ which could be added into existing MRI machines to lower costs.
“The cost of medical imaging can go down over time, and with potential new uses in areas such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease – as well as a range of paediatric applications – PET/MRI technology could play an important role in our future health,” says Professor Loudos.