What is the biggest challenge of medical imaging? According to Rock West Solutions, it’s noise. Find a way to eliminate noise and the data generated by a medical imaging device becomes so much more valuable. A case in point is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) utilized to diagnose heart disease.

Engineers at Rock West Solution’s work on the signal processing technologies that make MRI better. They say that without good signal processing algorithms, much of the data generated by MRI equipment would present blurry images that don’t make for very discernible data points. But with the right signal processing, those images suddenly become crystal clear.

To illustrate, consider something known as cardiac functional MRI. An emerging form of this test relies on blood oxygenation to detect heart disease. Previous attempts to develop cardiac functional MRI via myocardial oxygenation have been thwarted by an inability to effectively process signal noise. But now, the efforts of a group of researchers from around the world have produced a solution.

Current MRI Technology

MRI equipment is currently used to detect heart disease with the use of radioactive chemicals and contrast agents, explains a Medical Xpress article published on May 30 (2019). The injected substance changes an MRI signal as it passes through the body, thus allowing trained technicians to identify signs of disease.

As effective as this method is, the radioactive chemicals and contrast agents come with risks. As such, the test is not appropriate for a variety of patients suffering from other conditions. For example, it is not recommended for individuals with limited kidney function.

The New MRI Technology

Researchers from the UK, Canada, and the U.S. have found a way around the limits of cardiac functional MRI by changing the way signals are processed. With this new technology it’s no longer necessary to use radioactive chemicals or contrast agents to look for heart disease. Instead, doctors can simply oxygenate the blood and then measure changes.

The patient is hooked to a breathing machine that changes the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood. Under normal conditions, the additional carbon dioxide would cause a change in blood flow. If disease is present, no change should be observed.

As previously mentioned, signal noise made it difficult for doctors to see what was going on in the heart using myocardial oxygenation. But the researchers involved in this latest project discovered that the noise was actually helpful for making a diagnosis.

It turns out that the noise was the result of the way the heart was processing oxygen. Once they knew that, they found a way to average it so that it did not distort the image to the point of inhibiting diagnosis. The researchers say that their discovery has “opened the door to a new era and totally novel way of doing cardiac stress testing to identify patients with ischemic heart disease.”

A Safer Way to Test

The researchers have concluded that their method is a safer way to test for heart disease. They also believe it will give doctors more detailed information that will enable them to assess a patient’s condition earlier than before. If true, it would lead to better treatment of heart disease in its early stages.

Even more importantly, the relatively few risks associated with the cardiac function MRI allows doctors to use it repeatedly on individual patients without any heightened danger. This would allow them to run multiple tests in order to fine-tune treatment options based on results. In essence, they have created a better way to test, diagnose and treat heart disease.