Because we installed Canada's first PET/MRI scanner

Imagine being able to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stage and prescribe medication to halt its progress. Imagine being able to evaluate the health of heart muscles and tissues after an attack and accurately prescribe treatment to prevent future heart failure. London is close to making these possibilities a reality with the installation of Canada’s first whole-body PET/MRI scanner at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The new PET/MRI scanner opens the door to early disease detection and superior patient care

installation of Canada's first PET/MRI scannerThe new hybrid imaging scanner, which combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), is an exciting acquisition of the imaging program at Lawson Health Research Institute. The first of its kind in Canada, the machine, delivered on Feb. 7, will play a key role in Lawson’s growing hybrid molecular imaging program.

“PET/MRI scanners are among the most exciting and talked about developments in radiology and nuclear medicine and represent the next generation of imaging technology,” explains Dr. Frank Prato, leader of the Lawson’s imaging program and physicist chief at St. Joseph’s. “The applications for PET/MRI are limitless. The scanner will be used by researchers to help improve diagnosis and treatment of Canada’s major health challenges, such as cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, mental illness and cancer.”

St. Joseph’s has long been a Canadian pioneer in bringing the latest imaging technology to patients in Southwestern Ontario. In 1981, for example, it was the first hospital in Canada to perform bone mineral density imaging to detect osteoporosis. In 2002, St. Joseph’s received the first PET/CT in Canada, which has significantly advanced work in cancer diagnostics.

“In 2012 we expect to do the first PET/MR images in Canada on patients with dementia, cancer and heart disease,” says Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, St. Joseph’s president and CEO. “I am proud of our tradition of medical imaging research that makes a difference for our patients.”

For heart disease, a leading cause of death and disability in North America, the PET/MRI holds promise in unraveling some key mysteries that persist about the disease. “Although our ability to diagnose and treat advanced heart disease has improved greatly over the past 20 years, we still do not understand how many of these diseases develop in their early stages, says cardiologist Dr. Gerry Wisenberg, Lawson’s director of molecular cardiac imaging. “The combination of PET and MRI as a single imaging unit will provide us with a unique tool that will help us understand and ultimately prevent heart attacks and heart failure before they occur." 

London’s stroke researchers, meanwhile, will become the first in the world to use PET/MRI to study treatable mechanisms of brain damage by stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. “I predict that this new technology will soon be used in patients to determine who will benefit from which therapy to lessen the burden of stroke and dementia in Canadians," says Lawson scientist Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, a leading Canadian neurologist.

The main mission of Lawson is research that directly impacts the well-being of patients, says Lawson scientific director Dr. David Hill. “This latest achievement of our imaging research program epitomizes our core value of bench to bedside.”

Advantages of hybrid PET/MRI imaging

  • The high resolution and sensitivity of PET/MRI captures minute details and produces superior three-dimensional images.
  • The simultaneous image capture of the PET and MRI scans eliminates the potential imaging problems caused by involuntary patient movement, such as breathing and muscle relaxation.
  • When used for anatomical imaging, the radiation dose for patients is half that of the next best technology.
  • The combined scanner reduces the need for patients to come for multiple visits.
  • Patient diagnosis is faster because imaging and overall information available from the scan is better.

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