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July 2006 Issue

Kenneth Weiss, MD, developed a noninvasive, computer-automated MRI technique known as the automated spine survey iterative scan technique (ASSIST).
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New Technology Allows Fast, Radiation-Free MRI Exams for Kids with Disabilities

By Amanda Harper
Published July 2006

Physicians who provide care to Hamilton County children with chronic neurological conditions and other disabilities can take advantage of a new UC program that offers no-cost magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams.


Kenneth Weiss, MD, associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at UC, has developed 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 without exposing the patient to radiation or sedation.


MRI is an imaging 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.


The new ASSIST procedure is used to screen, assess and monitor medical conditions related to the neuroaxis (brain and spine).


“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 neurologic disabilities. So unfortunately, the procedure usually requires sedation or external radiation to get usable results.”


Scientists say radiation exposure and sedating medications may have immediate and long-term cumulative effects in children, he says, so they often seek alternatives to minimize or avoid these risks. 


Weiss believes the ASSIST technique, which is currently being refined in adults, could also improve the detection and diagnosis of child brain and spine conditions and injuries—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 diagnostic tool in day-to-day patient care.”


The UC-developed technique uses computer-automated software to obtain and analyze brain and spine MRI studies. With Weiss’ technique, a total neuroaxis scan can take as little as five minutes. Traditional total brain and spine MRI exams can take more than 1.5 hours to complete.


Weiss stresses that the neuroaxis screening exam is not as comprehensive as a standard MRI, but it may be sufficient to answer pressing clinical questions. 


”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—without exposing a vulnerable population to potentially harmful ionizing radiation or unnecessary sedative medications,” adds Weiss.


ASSIST also reduces the 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.


“We want to provide the best possible care, while also promoting the neurological well-being of children—not just in Ohio, but across the world,” he says. “To do that, we need to improve assessment, identification and characterization of brain and spine problems in young children earlier, faster and more safely.”


As part of the UC|21 China Initiative, Weiss is currently working with that country’s leading researchers to refine his MRI technology.


The international team hopes to increase MRI scanner productivity so that more patients in highly populated countries have access to diagnostic imaging services.


This UC MRI program is funded by a $100,000 State of Ohio grant. Weiss and his advanced neuroimaging team will begin seeing patients at UC’s Varsity Village Imaging Center and other facilities this fall.


The project is being conducted in collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center physicians and UC faculty Ton DeGrauw, MD, and Kerry Crone, MD.



For more information, physicians should call (513) 584-1584. Space is limited and children must be referred into the program by a qualified physician.

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