Many diseases cannot be diagnosed until morphological changes have occurred. Typically these are discovered using ultrasound, computerized tomography or magnetic resonance (MR) tomography. However, in order to improve the prognosis for patients, a diagnostic technique is needed to detect molecular changes even before there are any visible morphological changes. Also, because forms of treatment are becoming increasingly diverse and are personally tailored to a patient's needs, a method is needed to check early on whether a patient is responding to a particular treatment or not.
The new Christian Doppler Laboratory for Clinical Molecular MR Imaging (MOLIMA) is embedded within the High Field MR Center of Excellence of the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy at MedUni Vienna. Here they are developing new investigation methods to exploit the enormous possibilities that high field and ultra-high field (3 – 7 Tesla) MR imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS) can offer patients. Such powerful magnets offer the potential for obtaining images and measurements in the molecular range, because they have a better signal-to-noise ratio with higher spatial resolution and greater sensitivity as well as higher spectral resolution.
“CD Laboratory’s aim is to apply the technical potential of modern medical imaging to produce practical investigation methods for everyday clinical use," explains Siegfried Trattnig, director of the High Field MR Center of Excellence of the Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy at MedUni Vienna and of the new CD Laboratory.
"Christian Doppler Laboratories, such as this one, support the translation of scientific know-how into practical applications. That not only helps patients but also ensures economic growth and jobs in Austria," says Reinhold Mitterlehner, Federal Minister of Science, Research and Economy, thereby stressing the importance of the funding programme. The CD Laboratory conducts high-level, application-oriented basic research. This involves highly qualified scientists working closely with innovative companies. The Christian Doppler Research Association is a global model of Best Practice in promoting this type of collaborative initiative.
Many potential applications
Using nuclear biomarkers, it is possible to observe specific minute molecular changes in the body. Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST) imaging is able to quantify protons and MR spectroscopy is able to quantify other nuclei that occur less frequently in the human body, such as phosphorus 31 and sodium 23 nuclei.
While proton-based MRS is used to analyze metabolic processes in the brain as a whole, phosphorus 31 MRS can simultaneously capture signals from several muscle groups and characterize their individual efficiency.
Sodium 23 MRI, on the other hand, is used for imaging the kidneys, musculoskeletal system (cartilage, ligaments, discs) and is used for breast cancer. As well as being able to measure total sodium concentration, it can also selectively measure intra-cellular sodium concentration.
The aim of this CD Laboratory is to adapt the described methods into clinically viable investigation methods for different areas of the body and for different diseases and to establish itself as a worldwide reference center for the clinical application of MRI and MRS on 7 Tesla machines.
About Christian Doppler Laboratories
Christian Doppler Laboratories are jointly financed by the government and the private companies involved. Most of the public funding comes from the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW).