A new technique developed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for conducting cardiac magnetic resonance imaging tests is offering a potential solution for solving a major problem associated with using conventional methods to perform MRI scans—how to get a still image when a beating heart and blood flow can blur the picture.

Instead of having patients undergoing cardiac MRI hold their breath while images are being taken, the technique—called MR multitasking—makes a video. The process improves patient comfort, shortens testing time, and has the potential to increase diagnostic accuracy and reliability.

Investigators at Cedars-Sinai investigators published the results of their study using the technique in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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“Cardiac MRI is a time-consuming and complicated imaging procedure,” says Debiao Li, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Biomedical Research Institute and the primary investigator of the study. “It has a lot of very important information it can provide to clinicians to make a diagnosis or treatment decision. But it requires cardiac signal monitoring and also may require a patient to hold their breath multiple times.”

Cedars-Sinai

However, rather than trying to avoid the motion caused by breathing and heartbeats, the solution developed by investigators “continuously acquires image data and then, when the test is completed, the program separates out the overlapping sources of motion and other changes into multiple time dimensions,” according to Anthony Christodoulou, a research scientist in the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and the study’s first author.

According to Christodoulou, the incorporation of motion and time into the MR multitasking analysis results in images that have six dimensions.

“If a picture is 2-D, then a video is 3-D because it adds the passage of time,” notes Christodoulou. “Our videos are 6-D because we can play them back four different ways: We can play back cardiac motion, respiratory motion and two different tissue processes that reveal cardiac health.”

Li adds that MR multitasking is “much faster” than conventional methods to perform cardiac MRI scans and does not require patients to hold their breaths or to conduct cardiac signal monitoring.

Investigators tested the technique in 10 healthy volunteers and 10 cardiac patients. What they found was that it was accurate, more comfortable for patients than the traditional approach, and it only took 90 seconds to complete three cardiac MRI tests.

“Now, we collect all the data throughout the entire test and sort it afterwards,” says Li. “We get full control after the test, as opposed to trying to control the body’s natural movement during imaging.”

Li adds that Cedars-Sinai is working on applying MR multitasking to patients with other diseases, such as cancer. “We need to resolve the motion. It’s the same challenge that we had in cardiac, and we also need to quantify tissue properties—they’re all important for cancer detection.”

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