EMPIR project on medical diagnosis gaining international recognition

A radiologist sits in a darkened room inspecting MRI images of a patient’s head on a computer screen
Radiologist inspecting MRI images

A project developing a metrological basis for quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imagining (qMRI) has drawn interest from around Europe

The project
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) combines strong static magnetic fields with field gradients and time-varying field pulses to produce 3D medical images without exposing patients to ionising radiation.

Generally, MRI images are designed for a single use in diagnosing a patient’s condition. These images are qualitative, and images produced at different sites using different scanners are not directly comparable - which is challenging in large scale clinical trials using MRI.

By contrast, quantitative MRI provides images by making measurements of physical or chemical properties – with benefits such as diagnosing cancers, dementia, liver disease, muscular dystrophy, heart failure and ischemic stroke. All major scanner manufacturers now offer Quantitative MRI (qMRI) as an option of their machines and it has the potential to allow calibration of different scanners, making their results comparable.

The benefits of quantitative MRI are potentially huge, but to be fully reproducible it needs effective standards and test procedures. Work in this area is in its infancy, and the EMPIR project Improved metrology for quantitative MRI (20NRM05, iMET-MRI) is working to resolve this problem, developing the procedures and guidance to initiate standardisation of qMRI.

Best paper award and project dissemination

Due to finish in 2024, the project has already started to gain interest in Europe.

In 2021 results from the project were presented at the IPEM conference on Quality Assurance for MRI. The submission, Metrology, Traceability and Quantitative MRI, won the best presentation award.

The work was also presented at the European Congress for Medical Physics in 2022, hosted in Dublin, Rep. of Ireland, as well as  the British and Irish Chapter of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine in Cardiff, UK.  Regular updates from the project are also being provided to the European Imaging Biomarkers Alliance (EIBALL).

It is anticipated that at the end of the project the resulting metrological methods for qMRI developed, along with a good practice guide, which will provide valuable input into future proposed standards.

Ultimately, independent validation of qMRI measurements and standards will reduce the cost and complexity of patient studies and lower barriers to developing new therapies.

The coordinator of the project, Matt Hall from NPL, the UK’s National Metrology Institute commented on the work:

“Quantitative MRI is at a tipping point, with interest in quantitative methods increasing and metrological support improving. This project is developing valuable new methods and capability to support its uptake, supporting improved clinical imaging and larger-scale research studies”.

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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