IU Health’s Newest Cancer Fighter: PET MRI

November 15, 2017

A new tool at Indiana University Health’s Neuroscience Center may now make cancer detection and diagnosis faster and easier.

“MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging,” explains Todd Stanley, administrative director of imaging at IU Health. “This kind of scan uses magnetic and radio waves to produce detailed morphological information of the organs, tissues and structures within the body. While PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography, an imaging test that helps to measure the functionality of tissues and organs within the body. Our new PET MRI is a hybrid scanner that combines these two components into a single scan.”

So, what’s the benefit of using PET MRI?

“It captures metabolic activity and anatomy together so it can offer doctors a more accurate assessment of disease, Stanley explains. “This can ultimately allow for better detection, characterization, staging and treatment of oncological and neurological diseases, and PET MRI scans also expose patients to lower levels of radiation,” says Stanley. “In addition, because patients can get an MRI and a PET scan at the same time, it’s much more convenient for them.”

What’s more, explains Dr. Vasantha Aaron, a radiology medical director at IU Health, the machine’s technology has shown to have a higher sensitivity for finding cancer that has spread to the liver than the others modalities we have (MRI, CT, PET/CT). “We also know that radiologists have higher confidence when they read PET/MRI scans where they’re specifically looking at, for example, colorectal cancer or cervical cancer,” explains Dr. Aaron. “And in pediatric patients, there’s the potential for decreasing the radiation dose to the child by as much as 80 percent.”

IU Health started looking at PET MRI technology about three years ago, explains Stanley, when the science behind the tool was starting to gain more attention. “It was a new venture for us,” he recalls, “so, we went after funding in 2016, the machine was funded in 2017 and in September we actually got the machine on site. It was a 4 million dollar project. But when we visited other health systems like NYU, UCSF and Stanford, we saw firsthand how helpful this technology could be, particularly to our cancer patient population—it could transform patient care.”

The process behind PET MRI also naturally lends itself to synergy. “It can be utilized for cases that go well beyond the neurosciences,” explains Dr. Aaron. “So, while we will utilize this machine to look at the brain it can also provide amazing clinical insight to the bones, prostate and the GI systems. We will be able to explore all of that, too.”

To date, she says, IU Health is the only healthcare system in the state of Indiana that possesses this innovative technology.

-- By Sarah Burns

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