FRIDAY, March 30, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- New imaging techniques that provide a closer look inside lungs may improve early detection of diseases, such as emphysema, researchers say.
"Up until now, imaging the way lungs function in real time has been limited by conventional methods which result in rather low resolution images," Dr. Warren Gefter, chief of thoracic imaging in the radiology department of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.
"We are developing a way to get a better look inside the lungs by polarizing atoms -- making them all spin in the same direction -- with magnetic resonance (MR), which allows the atoms to have a strong signal for sharper images," he said.
Patients inhale helium that's been exposed to laser light to make all of the atoms spin in the same direction. MR is used to track the polarized helium as it moves through the lungs.
"We have moved from imaging the structure to imaging the function of the lung to a scale well below a millimeter in size. It's truly groundbreaking," Gefter said.
Another MR technique developed by Penn researchers uses polarized carbon-13-labeled molecules to provide lung function images at the cellular and intracellular level in order to look for disease.
MedlinePlus has more about lung disease.