Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute revealed a new hybrid imaging scanner that will allow clinicians to provide more personalised treatment for patients with cancer and other diseases. This PET-MR scanner – which is the first in Western Canada – is set to revolutionize the biological landscape of diseases and cancer to physicians and scientists.
“It is truly the defining piece of equipment for functional imaging,” said Sandy McEwan, project lead and a professor of oncology in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. “It takes an image from being a picture to being a biomarker and will start to give clinicians the information they need to provide personalized treatment. That is huge. It will help move us further towards ensuring that the patient gets the right treatment at the right time in the right dose.”
The new hybrid imaging scanner, which combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), represents a major leap forward in imaging and diagnostic capabilities, allowing doctors to seek more sophisticated information that could be found through the use of conventional PET-CT scanners used throughout Canada.
PET-MR has significant applications in the fields of oncology, neurology and cardiology, and produces some of the most highly detailed pictures of the inside of the body currently available.
Traditionally, MRI scans alone use a large magnet and radio waves to look at organs and structures inside your body. Health care professionals use MRI scans to diagnose a variety of conditions, from torn ligaments to tumours and are very useful for examining the brain and spinal cord.
PET scans use an imaging test that allows your doctor to check for diseases in your body. The scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers. These tracers are either swallowed, inhaled, or injected into a vein in your arm depending on what part of the body is being examined.
Previously, PET and MRI were considered incompatible for simultaneous scanning due to interference between the two technologies. Through the new PET-MR scanner, each can now be used alongside, giving scientists a far more comprehensive image. According to McEwan, the advanced capabilities will allow scientists not only to better define tumours in patients but also to understand the biology and biochemistry underlying them.
Although the PET/MR will be used mainly for research, there will be early contributions to patient care through improved diagnosis and treatment planning for patients with neuroendocrine tumours and prostate cancer.
“We’re going to see a lot of additional clinical interest in areas where we are already using PET-CT once practitioners start to see the clarity and detail available from PET-MR images,” says Matthew Parliament, senior medical director for Cancer Control Alberta, Alberta Health Services.
The $17-million project is co-led by the UofA’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Department of Oncology. It is supported by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Government of Alberta, Alberta Cancer Foundation, University Hospital Foundation and the University of Alberta. Space for the facility is provided by Alberta Health Services.
“We’re pleased our donors helped bring this cutting-edge technology to Alberta, allowing researchers to understand the biology of cancer at a whole new level,” says George Andrews, president and CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. “This investment builds on considerable donor support in the area of imaging at the Cross Cancer Institute. We know this work is being led by some of the best and brightest minds in this field who will be able to use this new knowledge to improve outcomes for patients.”