Hyperpolarized gas lung MR imaging

Multiple different disorders and diseases may be imaged using hyperpolarized MRI, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung disease, lung cancer and pulmonary hypertension. Each of these conditions can affect the lungs, as well as the patient's ability to breathe. Unfortunately, MRI has not been able to properly image lungs due to the lack of signal. Hyperpolarized MRI is a research technique and can provide a clear idea of the patient's condition and the potential treatment options could be of importance.

Hyperpolarized MRI1

In order for a hyperpolarized magnetic resonance scan to be conducted, the technologist has to use special equipment. Laser optical pumping is a technique that boosts the MR spin magnetization of the noble gas that the patient will inhale and requires a specialized laser polarizer.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, England have been looking for a better way to conduct imaging of the lungs. Jim Wild, a Professor of Magnetic Resonance Physics and a National Institute of Health Research Professor in Pulmonary Imaging, and his team have been looking toward hyperpolarized gas lung magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the answer. The team is part of the POLARIS group, which polarizes helium (3He) and Xenon (129Xe) gas. The team believes that the information gathered from MR imaging include more than just ventilation.

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Using Xenon gas1

Jim Wild and his team have built a laser polarizer to generate polarized 129Xe, which may allow for a high throughput for clinical lung imaging. The team's recent work using xenon 129 has shown the possibility for hyperpolarization to increase the signal to noise ratio in magnetic resonance.

While the xenon gas is in the alveoli, the team can acquire the dimensions of it through the diffusivity of the gas. As a result, the scan may provide metrics on early emphysema changes in smokers, as well as lung development in infants. This is possible, because xenon is an MR signal-bearing gas.

Xenon is soluble, meaning it can be dissolved in liquids. This allows the gas, once it has dissolved in the alveoli in the lungs, to go into capillaries. Because of this, the technologist may be able to measure and quantify changes in fibrotic lung disease. It can also help radiologists determine ventilation perfusion matching.

Hyperpolarized magnetic resonance imaging of the lung using Xenon 129 gas has the potential to provide additional information regarding the alveoli and capillaries in the lung, as well as the ventilation in the lung. Jim Wild and his team at the University of Sheffield have been researching the effectiveness of this technique. The team believes that because the scan can provide more information than conventional MRI, which provides information only about ventilation, it may be a valuable tool for radiology departments in the future. As a result, their method could potentially help physicians and their patients in the future.



  1. Hyperpolarized gas lung imaging. SIGNA Pulse of MR Last accessed September 13, 2019.