New developments could allow doctors to virtually see inside the lungs of patients

New developments in scan technology could enable space inside the lungs to be visible on a Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Experts have developed a process using specially-treated krypton gas as an inhalable contrast agent to make the spaces inside the lungs show up on a Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. It is hoped the new process will eventually allow doctors to virtually see inside the lungs of patients.

Traditional magnetic resonance imaging uses hydrogen protons in the body as molecular targets to give a picture of tissue but this does not give a detailed picture of the lungs because they are full of air. Recent technological developments have led to a novel imaging methodology called Inhaled Hyperpolarised Gas MRI that uses lasers to 'hyperpolarise' a noble (inert) gas, which aligns (polarises) the nuclei of the gas so it shows up on an MRI scan.

The work will make 3D imaging using 'atomic spies' like helium, xenon, or krypton possible in a single breath hold by the patient. In the new paper, researchers have developed a technique to generate hyperpolarised krypton gas at high purity, a step that will significantly facilitate the use of this new contrast agent for pulmonary MRI.

Author of the paper, Professor Thomas Meersmann from the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at Nottingham University in the UK, said: "It is particularly demanding to retain the hyperpolarized state of krypton during preparation of this contrast agent. We have solved a problem by using a process that is usually associated with clean energy related sciences. It's called catalytic hydrogen combustion. This development significantly improves the potential usefulness of laser-pumped krypton-83 as MRI contrast agent for clinical applications."

Read the paper