University of Heidelberg
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Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging with hyperpolarised helium-3

M. Ebert, T. Grossmann, W. Heil, W. Otten, R. Surkau, M. Leduc, P. Bachert, M. Knopp, L. Schad and M. Thelen

Lancet, 347 (9011), pp.1297-1299

BACKGROUND: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) relies on magnetisation of hydrogen nuclei (protons) of water molecules in tissue as source of the signal. This technique has been valuable for studying tissues that contain significant amounts of water, but biological settings with low proton content, notably the lungs, are difficult to image. We report use of spin-polarised helium-3 for lung MRI. METHODS: A volunteer inhaled hyperpolarised 3He to fill the lungs, which were imaged with a conventional MRI detector assembly. The nuclear spin polarisation of helium, and other noble gases, can be greatly enhanced by laser optical pumping and is about 10(5) times larger than the polarisation of water protons. This enormous gain in polarisation easily overcomes the loss in signal due to the lower density of the gas. FINDINGS: The in-vivo experiment was done in a whole-body MRI scanner. The 3He image showed clear demarcation of the lung against diaphragm, heart, chest wall, and blood vessels (which gave no signal). The signal intensity within the air spaces was greatest in lung regions that are preferentially ventilated in the supine position; less well ventilated areas, such as the apices, showed a weaker signal. INTERPRETATION: MRI with hyperpolarised 3He gas could be an alternative to established nuclear medicine methods. The ability to image air spaces offers the possibility of investigating physiological and pathophysiological processes in pulmonary ventilation and differences in its regional distribution.

Contact: Dr. Frank Zöllner last modified: 12.07.2021
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