Another recent trend is the introduction of multi-modality systems, which enable researchers to use various anatomical and molecular scanning technologies – including MRI, SPECT, PET, optical and CT scanning – in conjunction with each other to obtain different results simultaneously.

For many preclinical studies, researchers need to employ different imaging techniques to visualize the various changes that may occur, for example, as a result of a drug being tested. Having to move animals between different scanners in separate locations means that they must be re-anaesthetized, which can alter the results. Reducing this need to move animals from one machine to another enables far more in-depth research to be carried out faster, more easily and at lower cost than before, including rapid analysis of the feasibility of prospective research projects.

The combination of high-resolution PET or SPECT with high-performance cryogen-free MRI instrumentation should provide significant benefits for both academia and industry. Such systems offer researchers simultaneous multi-modality imaging that has not been commercially available before.

To provide 3D SPECT images, MR Solutions has devised a system whereby four gamma camera heads and focusing collimators can be easily clipped on to the front of the MRI scanner bore. The SPECT images can be registered with the MR images to provide combined anatomical-functional information. The SPECT gamma camera can also be used independently.

PET capability is provided by solid-state detectors and FPGA technology incorporated within the bore of the MRI scanner. This approach combines the detailed structural and functional tissue characterization provided by the MRI scan with the extreme sensitivity of PET imaging for metabolism and tracking of uniquely labelled cell types or cell receptors. This feature is particularly useful in oncology, cardiology and neurology research.

Ongoing development

MR Solutions, which is based in Guildford, Surrey, has a pipeline of new multi-modality innovations under development. It already produces 3T MRI preclinical imaging systems with bore sizes of 17 and 31 cm, enabling small- to medium-sized animals to be scanned. And following the recent launch of its 7T scanner with a 17 cm bore width, the company plans to also introduce larger bore sizes on this system.

MRI technology itself, through hyperpolarization (which increases the signal for short periods of time to enhance imaging ability) and other techniques, is able to provide a much wider range of capabilities than traditional MRI equipment.

The MRI technology now available is transforming the way that researchers can work, with much more complex projects and greater imaging ability. With equipment now more affordable and room adaptions no longer necessary, preclinical MRI systems with multi-modality capabilities will become more widely available.

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