Shedding Light on Asthma

New imaging technique may help doctors treat breathing disorder more effectively

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TUESDAY, April 29, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A new magnetic resonance imaging technique that uses hyperpolarized helium to light up the lungs' airways may one day improve treatment for people with asthma.

That's what researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found. Their study appears in the May issue of Radiology.

The technique, called dynamic hyperpolarized 3He (helium) imaging, is the first method able to provide clear resolution of the smaller lung airways. It could help doctors better understand and treat asthma and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

In this study, six healthy adult volunteers aged 22 to 40 inhaled one breath of hyperpolarized helium gas while having magnetic resonance imaging. The researchers observed the volunteers' lungs using fast gradient-echo pulse sequence.

The images using this method showed differential contrast of both distal airways and lung periphery.

"Other non-radioactive techniques have only been able to image lung peripheries. Dynamic hyperpolarized helium MR imaging offers a completely noninvasive and safe method of studying the airways," principal investigator Mitchell S. Albert says in a news release.

"Our new technique provides information on ventilation, while depicting structure and function of the airways. Other non-radioactive imaging modalities do not provide this type of information," Albert adds.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about asthma.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, April 29, 2003

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