New MRI machine technique could improve diagnosis of multiple sclerosis

New MRI machine technique could improve diagnosis of multiple sclerosis
© iStock/Valerii Apetroaiei

A new MRI machine technique has been used as part of a research project that could lead to a quicker assessment of disease activity in MS.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) must be diagnosed and treated as early as possible to delay the progression of the disease. The technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is key in this process. The researchers aimed to discover new methods in which to diagnose MS early using an MRI machine.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system, it reveals itself in changes (lesions) primarily in the brain. Currently, there is no cure for MS, but effective treatments are available. However, early diagnosis is crucial to the prognosis, with highly detailed imaging techniques playing a key role in the process. Although conventional MRI machines can detect brain lesions, researchers used this method to detect changes at an earlier microscopic or biochemical stage.

The study was conducted by a research team led by Wolfgang Bogner at MedUni Vienna‘s Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided therapy and was recently published in the leading journal “Radiology”.

A new MRI machine technique

An MRI machine performs scans that use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI machine uses a large tube that contains powerful magnets and can examine almost any part of the body.

The researchers have now established a new method known as proton MR spectroscopy, a promising tool for this purpose.

The team used this method with a 7-tesla magnet machine to compare the neurochemical changes in the brains of 65 MS patients with those of 20 healthy controls. This particularly powerful imaging tool was co-developed by MedUni Vienna researchers and has been used for scientific studies, e.g., of the brain, at MedUni Vienna’s Center of Excellence for High-Field MR since it was commissioned in 2008.

Identifying changes 

Using a 7-tesla MRI machine, MedUni Vienna researchers have now been able to identify MS-relevant neurochemicals, for example, chemicals involved in the function of the nervous system. “This allowed us to visualise brain changes in regions that appear normal on conventional MRI scans,” said study leader Wolfgang Bogner, pointing to one of the study’s main findings. According to the study’s lead author, Eva Niess, these findings could play a significant role in the care of MS patients in the future: “Some neurochemical changes that we’ve been able to visualise with the new technique occur early in the course of the disease and might not only correlate with a disability but also predict further disease progression.”

Further developments to come

The researchers explained that more research is needed before these findings can be incorporated into clinical applications. They stated that the results already show that 7-tesla spectroscopic MR imaging is a valuable new tool in the diagnosis and treatment of MS.

“If the results are confirmed in further studies, this new neuroimaging technique could become a standard imaging tool for initial diagnosis and for monitoring disease activity and treatment in MS patients,” said Wolfgang Bogner, looking to the future. The method is currently only available on the only 7-Tesla MRI scanner in Austria at MedUni Vienna and only for research purposes. However, the scientific team led by Eva Niess and Wolfgang Bogner is working on refining the new method for use in routine clinical MRI scanners.


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