The new addition to the Research Imaging Center (RIC) will enable scientists to make highly precise images and measurements of the anatomy, chemistry and function of humans and animals.
The $2.5 million, 65,000-pound cylindrical device is called a Magnet Resonance (MR) Clinical Spectroscopy and Imaging System. Purchased jointly by the Health Science Center and Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital, it is designed to supplement the RIC's positron emission tomography (PET) scanner.
The new machine was manufactured in Oxford, England, by Elscint, a company based in Haifa, Israel. It contains a 2.0-tesla magnet. "This is the strongest magnetic field approved by the Food and Drug Administration for diagnostic purposes," said Peter T. Fox, MD, RIC director.
"With this new equipment, we can do three-dimensional spectroscopy (chemical measurement) and imaging in living subjects. This dovetails nicely with our PET system, which monitors body function," Fox said. "Now we can do PET and MR scans in the same subjects and compare the results. This equipment amplifies our capabilities a great deal."
The new MR machine has a large aperture - about a yard wide - to allow humans and large animals to be studied. When a person is being tested, the machine magnetically realigns atoms in the body. Radio antennae inside the unit pick up these atomic movements and transmit them to a computer, which creates a three-dimensional representation of the "resonance," or movement of the atoms. This movement is harmless to the subject, experts said.
"Using software developed by Dr. Jack Lancaster's team of programmers and graduate students, RIC scientists can handle MRI and PET data as 3-D data matrices," Fox said. "This is far more powerful than old-fashioned x-ray films. For example, we can overlay a PET image on the MR image. PET will show what is happening, while MR will show where it is happening."
The RIC scientists also plan to start a state-of-the-art "electroimaging" laboratory that would measure brain activity in a millisecond time frame. "This lab will tell us exactly when brain events occur," Fox said.
"PET, MR and the electroimaging, in tandem, will let us do computer imaging in four dimensions - the three spatial dimensions plus time. And our computer software is programmed to algorithmically assess along a fifth dimension - subject behavior - and a sixth - variation among subjects."
The San Antonio technology will contribute to the worldwide BrainMap project coordinated by Fox and colleagues. Fox hosted an international BrainMap conference at the RIC last spring.