The University Hospital at the University of Navarra and the Applied Medicine Research Centre (CIMA) of the University has recently acquired a 3 Teslas magnetic resonance imager for joint use, the first for research applications in Spain. The 3 Teslas is the magnetic resonance imaging unit with the highest strength currently permitted by international medical bodies for the morphological study of the human body.
The University Hospital at the University of Navarra currently has two other magnetic resonance units. The first of these has a strength of 0.2 Teslas (unit of magnetic field) with a C-shape or "open" structure. Apart from this, the hospital also has a 1.5 Teslas unit of a cylindrical shape.
The fundamental difference between the resonance units is marked by the intensity of the main magnetic field. There currently exist imaging units that have strengths from 0.2 Teslas and others that are currently in an experimental phase and reach a strength of 7 Teslas.
The most notable advantage of the 3 Teslas unit is its high precision given that it enables the recording of an enhanced image quality in less exploration time. Moreover, the imaging unit will be used to continue lines of research in close collaboration with CIMA, the most important of which involve the study of Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's.
Specialist medical uses
At a health care level, the medical specialities to benefit most from the acquisition of this unit, and in which the use is the most novel, are neuro-radiology, imaging diagnosis in muscular-skeletal injuries and angiography by Magnetic Resonance. Besides, there exist other areas of the body the study of which will also be enhanced by the use of 3 Teslas resonance such as the abdomen, the breast and the heart, amongst others.
Likewise, the greater strength of the magnetic field enables the optimisation of highly specialised techniques such as, for example, diffusion (used, fundamentally, for the study of the brain), perfusion (blood circulation system) and functional magnetic resonance.
The 3 Teslas unit also provides new care possibilities as regards molecular radiology. The new concept of imaging procedures involves the use of substances that are deposited at a molecular level and the behaviour of which, observed using various techniques, enables us to make a diagnosis and to differentiate the various elements under study. For example, the early diagnostic search for a cancer prior to it reaching a certain size.
Despite the overall innocuousness of the exploration and diagnostic technique, there are certain patients for which its use has side effects, basically those with pacemakers given that the magnetic fields render this heart apparatus inoperable. Any ferromagnetic metallic structures have to be carefully monitored before introducing a patient into a strong magnetic field, as the influence of the field may cause these metal structures to move or their temperature to rise.
Neuroimaging in Parkinson's and Alzheimer
The acquisition of the 3 Teslas magnetic resonance imaging unit will enhance Functional Neuroimaging research – already initiated at the Applied Medicine Research Centre (CIMA) of the University.
A number of research projects into Parkinson's disease focus on the role of the basal ganglia - altered with this condition - and the perception of tactile, auditory or visual stimuli. Within this line of research, one of the priority studies is related to the control of voluntary movement. For the patient with Parkinson's, and using magnetic resonance, the areas of the brain that function while carrying out complex manual movements are identified and likewise how this cerebral activity is modified with learning. It is of interest to know the plasticity of these altered neuronal populations and how they react to and change with medication.
Another important line of research involves cognitive neurology, related to the onset of dementia. For example, in persons with memory or attention disorders, it can be determined if there exists incipient dementia or not. While undergoing resonance, the patient is given cognitive tasks of a simple nature and targeting a specific function, for example, attention, memory, orientation, discrimination, amongst others, with the aim of measuring the neuronal activity of the different parts of the patient's brain while undertaking these cognitive tasks.
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