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New medical imaging technology has potential for earlier diagnosis

PET-MRI is powerful new research tool – a combination of imaging technology that is already providing valuable insights into a wide range of diseases, improving treatments and future patient care.

Most people are familiar with medical scans such as MRI and CT, as well as x-rays. Each type of scan serves a specific purpose and usually they are done individually, but now Edinburgh University is improving patient diagnosis and care by combining two different techniques.

In a first for Scotland, Edinburgh Imaging, part of Edinburgh University’s medical school, is now scanning patients in a new PET-MRI research facility. Funded by the Medical Research Council, the facility is part of a network of five Dementia Platform scanners across the UK.

PET–MRI allows PET (positron emission tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning to be combined into one examination, which is a lot more convenient for patients and allows the different information from the two scans – functional information from PET and anatomical detail provided by MRI – to be more accurately matched.

PET-MRI brain scanPET and MRI are different ways of scanning the body and studying disease processes. MRI enables doctors to image all parts of the body with high structural detail and is used in many areas of clinical practice. PET, on the other hand, uses a radioactively labelled compound called tracers to detect functional changes in tissues. In clinical practice, PET is most commonly used in the investigation of cancer, but other PET tracers can detect specific features in a range of other diseases.

In broad terms, PET-MRI scanning allows us to detect specific combinations of structural and functional changes due to disease, within different part of the body.

This significant innovation could feasibly lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of a range of neurological diseases, including dementias and other neurodegenerative conditions, stroke, MS and brain tumours.

It will also play an important part in investigating the role of inflammation in heart and vascular disease, where the PET and MRI components give important complimentary information. In addition, the facility will allow advanced imaging research programmes in liver, kidney and bowel disease and a range of cancers.

The PET-MRI scanner is located next to the Royal Infirmary in the Edinburgh Imaging, Queens Medical Research Institute facility. It complements existing MRI, CT and PET and new state-of-the art MRI research facilities across the Royal Infirmary and Western General sites and is supported by internationally-recognised clinical and scientific expertise within Edinburgh Imaging.

The PET-MRI scanner is already doing its work – scanning patients in the hospital to help with their medical care.

Further information

Prof. Adam Waldman, Chair of Neuroradiology, University of Edinburgh Medical School - 31 May 2017