Max Planck researchers from Göttingen have now succeeded in significantly reducing the time required for recording images - to just one fiftieth of a second. With this breakthrough, the dynamics of organs and joints can be filmed "live" for the first time: movements of the eye and jaw as well as the bending knee and the beating heart.

The new MRI method promises to add important information about diseases of the joints and the heart. In many cases MRI examinations may become easier and more comfortable for patients. (NMR in Biomedicine 2010, Journal of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance 2010)

A process that required several minutes until well into the 1980s, now only takes a matter of seconds: the recording of cross-sectional images of our body by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This was enabled by the FLASH (fast low angle shot) method developed by Göttingen scientists Jens Frahm and Axel Haase at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

FLASH revolutionised MRI and was largely responsible for its establishment as a most important modality in diagnostic imaging. MRI is completely painless and, moreover, extremely safe. Because the technique works with magnetic fields and radio waves, patients are not subjected to any radiation exposure as is the case with X-rays.At present, however, the procedure is still too slow for the examination of rapidly moving organs and joints. For example, to trace the movement of the heart, the measurements must be synchronised with the electrocardiogram (ECG) while the patient holds the breath. Afterwards, the data from different heart beats have to be combined into a film.

The researchers working with Jens Frahm, Head of the non-profit "Biomedizinische NMR Forschungs GmbH", now succeeded in further accelerating the image acquisition process. The new MRI method developed by Jens Frahm, Martin Uecker and Shuo Zhang reduces the image acquisition time to one fiftieth of a second (20 milliseconds), making it possible to obtain "live recordings" of moving joints and organs at so far inaccessible temporal resolution and without artefacts. Filming the dynamics of the jaw during opening and closing of the mouth is just as easy as filming the movements involved in speech production or the rapid beating of the heart. "A real-time film of the heart enables us to directly monitor the pumping of the heart muscle and the resulting blood flow - heartbeat by heartbeat and without the patient having to hold the breath," explains Frahm. The scientists believe that the new method could help to improve the diagnosis of conditions such as coronary heart disease and myocardial insufficiency.

Another application involves minimally invasive interventions which, thanks to this discovery, could be carried out in future using MRI instead of X-rays. "However, as it was the case with FLASH, we must first learn how to use the real-time MRI possibilities for medical purposes," says Frahm. "New challenges therefore also arise for doctors. The technical progress will have to be ‘translated’ into clinical protocols that provide optimum responses to the relevant medical questions."; Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft