New MR scanner opens door for imaging research

New MR Scanner

This past weekend, the University of Chicago welcomed the arrival of a new Philips Ingenia 3.0T Magnetic Resonance (MR) system, which was installed on the third floor of the University's MRI Research Center in the medical center's "Q" corridor.

The scanner, including its massive 5-ton magnet, was lifted six stories over Abbott Memorial Hall by a crane and delicately deposited into the MRI Center through a temporary opening in the north side of the building. It took five hours for the intricate maneuver-which began with removal of the old scanner-to be completed.

The new scanner will play an important role in innovative research being conducted at the University's MRI Research Center, including clinical trials led by University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Aytekin Oto, MD, professor of radiology and surgery. Oto will use the scanner to pioneer a technique called high-intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU, together with Scott Eggener, MD, associate professor of surgery.

"HIFU allows you to use high-intensity sound waves and focus them anywhere in the body," Oto said. "We're transferring the energy from the sound waves to tissue, and you can increase the temperature in the tissue either to warm it up to the level that you actually kill the tissues."

The technique is comparable to using a magnifying glass to start a camp fire in the summer. By precisely aiming sound waves at a targeted spot, even deep inside the body, Oto can destroy unwanted growths such as tumors without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

Oto and his colleagues have used HIFU in the past to ablate (or destroy) uterine fibroids, noncancerous growths of the uterus. The HIFU procedure is noninvasive and patients can often return to work the next day. Oto's new research will focus on using the technology to treat both breast and prostate cancers. Oto and Eggener will participate in a multicenter clinical trial in human prostate ablations beginning in December.

The scanner will also play an integral role in breast and prostate cancer screening programs directed by Oto, Gregory Karczmar, PhD, professor of radiology; David Schacht, MD, MPH, assistant professor of radiology; and Hiroyuki Abe, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiology. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers a more precise, detailed picture of organs, tissues and bones within the body, making it easier for doctors to identify developing cancers early when they are more easily treated. And, it also helps them assess which cancers pose an immediate threat.

"Right now, many people are getting treated for breast or prostate cancers, who may never need treatment in their lifetime," Karczmar said. "One of the goals of research in MRI and this new scanner, is to develop better imaging methods. We want to be able to ask, 'Will this cancer pose any problems for the patient or should we just leave it alone and do watchful waiting?'"

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only 1 in 39 men will die from prostate cancer. This method of active surveillance should help prevent overtreatment and reduce the number of unnecessary surgeries.

"It will be our goal to try to differentiate those less aggressive cancers from more aggressive cancers differentiate cats from tigers, if you will," Oto said. "So, if you see a small cat just sitting in the prostate and you can keep an eye on it reliably using imaging, why expose the patient to an unnecessary surgery or radiation therapy, which will give him some potential complications that could affect his quality of life, such as impotence and incontinence?" The new scanner will also be used for cancer risk assessment, to monitor patient response to therapy, and for MRI-guided focal laser ablation and the development of other image-guided therapies. "It's also going to be used to develop better MRI-guided procedures of all kinds, for example MRI-guided biopsy," Karczmar said. And, with a wider opening diameter of 70 centimeters (about 28 inches), it will be more comfortable for patients.

Most importantly, the new scanner will play an important role in advancing imaging research, while offering the best technology available to collaborative research teams and to patients.

If you are interested in using the new scanner or other MRIRC scanners for research, please contact Dr. Greg Karczmar, Director of MRI Research, at