CINCINNATI—University of Cincinnati (UC) radiologists are offering free magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams to Hamilton County children with chronic neurological conditions and other disabilities.
The MRI project, led by Kenneth Weiss, MD, associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at UC’s College of Medicine, is funded by a $100,000 State of Ohio grant. Weiss and his team will begin seeing pediatric patients this month.
MRI is a procedure that uses a magnetic field and radio-wave energy pulses to create pictures of organs and body structures. The test is used to detect, diagnose and plan treatment for a variety of disorders, including those involving the brain and spine.
Weiss and his team have developed and are currently refining a noninvasive computer-automated MRI technique—known as the automated spine survey iterative scan technique (ASSIST)—that allows physicians to obtain rapid, high-quality MRI scans.
“Spine and brain imaging in kids is challenging because the patient usually can’t hold still for the duration of time it takes to do a comprehensive scan,” explains Weiss. “This is especially true in children with neurological disabilities.”
Weiss believes his technique, which is currently being refined in adults, could also improve the detection and diagnosis of brain and spine injuries in children—ultimately leading to better care.
“Brain and spine abnormalities are a leading cause of death, disability and reduced quality of life in children,” he says. “We hope that by providing physicians with a technique that is scientifically valid but lower in cost, MRI can become a sensible neurological screening and diagnosis tool in day-to-day patient care.”
The UC-developed technique uses computer automated software to obtain and help analyze brain and spine MRI studies. With Weiss’s technique—which is patent pending—a total neuroaxis MRI survey can take less than ten minutes. Traditional total brain and spine MRI exams can take more than 90 minutes to complete.
Weiss stresses that the neuroaxis screening exam is not as comprehensive as a standard MRI, but it may prove sufficient to answer pressing clinical questions. Further testing is needed before the technique can be applied in daily patient care.
“For cases that involve fidgeting or claustrophobic children, the rapid image sequencing may actually yield more information than a longer—but motion-degraded—exam,” he says.
“This allows physicians to get numerous high-quality images in a very short timeframe,” adds Weiss.
ASSIST also has the potential to reduce costs associated with diagnostic MRI by cutting the time it takes to acquire scans and increasing the number of patients who have access to the services, he says.
“We want to provide the very best possible care and promote the neurological well-being of children—not just in Ohio, but across the world where access to MRI is more limited” he says. “To do that, we need to improve assessment, identification and characterization of brain and spine problems in young children earlier, faster and with increased safety.”
Physicians and nonprofit organizations that provide care to Hamilton County children with chronic mental and physical disabilities can get more information by calling (513) 584-1584 or (513) 584-7544. Children must be referred into the program by a qualified physician. Currently, scans are being offered to children ages 12 to 17, but as the study progresses younger children will be imaged.
The project is being conducted in collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center physicians Ton deGrauw, MD, UC professor of pediatrics and neurology, and Kerry Crone, MD, UC associate professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics.