Radiologists have been using MRI brain scans for years. The technology is extremely useful, but it remains almost impossible to compare successive scans of a single patient. UAntwerp’s Vision Lab wants to change this. The research unit is coordinating B-Q MINDED, a European project that aims to improve diagnoses through new technology.
MRI scans - MRI stands for ‘magnetic resonance imaging’ - have been part of modern medicine since the 1980s. Brain scans made in this way are very useful for radiologists, but they have their limitations.
“Today, the vast majority of patient brain scans are qualitative,” says Prof. Jan Sijbers (UAntwerp), who heads Vision Lab, a research unit specialising in image reconstruction, processing and analysis. “The image intensity - or contrast - of the various brain tissues is relative, because it depends on the settings of the scanner and the software. This means a radiologist may be able to detect abnormalities on one image, but it is almost impossible to compare the contrast between successive patient scans, let alone between different patients.”
There is a better way. Sijbers: “There are MRI methods in which contrast is directly related to the underlying biophysical properties of the brain tissue. These quantitative scans have much potential to improve diagnosis. However, they also require a much longer scanning time, because the contrast needs to be ‘calibrated’.”
Loss of time is something to be avoided, of course, and this is made possible by the innovative image processing algorithms developed by Vision Lab. “We have been able to reduce the time needed per scan by 50%. During the B-Q MINDED project we will refine the algorithms even further. By 2022, this should result in faster and better MRI diagnoses in patients, in part thanks to a close collaboration with the industry.”
For this project, the University of Antwerp is collaborating with the University of Leeds, the Erasmus MC, Antwerp University Hospital and the Jülich Forschungszentrum. Several industrial partners are also actively involved: Siemens Healthineers, Icometrix, Quantib and MR Solutions.
The EU has earmarked ¤3.9 million for the project and is thoroughly convinced of its value: following a competitive European selection process (only 6% of projects were approved), B-Q MINDED emerged as the highest ranking project of the 394 submitted.