The detection of pathological tissue alterations by manual palpation is a simple but essential diagnostic tool. Recently, the virtual “palpation” of tissue has become feasible using Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE). Researchers at King’s College London have invented novel MRE units that work alongside standard MRI scanners to provide information on tissue characteristics following application of controlled stresses to a patient. With many pathologies impacting biomechanics, the potential of this novel, non-invasive method for early diagnosis, staging, and follow-up is enormous.
The detection of pathological tissue alterations by manual palpation is a simple but essential diagnostic tool, applied by physicians since the beginning of medicine. Recently, the virtual “palpation” of tissue has become feasible using Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE). With many pathologies such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neuro-degenerative diseases impacting biomechanics, the potential of this novel non-invasive method for early diagnosis, staging, and therapy follow up is enormous. Recent results in the domains of cancer and fibrosis have demonstrated impressive initial results and further funded studies are underway. MRE quantifies in-vivo biomechanical properties of tissue by analysing the propagation of externally elicited, low magnitude, shear waves. This method requires three steps:
1. sending low-frequency mechanical waves into the body via an externally applied transducer,
2. imaging waves via dedicated Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI)-motion sensitized sequences, and
3. generating images of the biomechanical properties.
Current MRE approaches lack efficiency, precision, reproducibility, and patient-friendliness, hampering the broad clinical use and acceptance of this imaging modality. MRE has started to be commercialized by Mayo Clinic Rochester (resoundant.com), using a pneumatic approach: However, although FDA-approved, this device produces unreliable mechanical excitation. Other researchers use either metal-containing electromagnetic drivers or bulky long rigid rods reaching into the bore of the MRI machine.
Led by Prof. Ralph Sinkus, King’s researchers have invented a novel MRE unit that works alongside standard commercially available MRI scanners to provide information on tissue characteristics. The approach provides controlled and non-distorted oscillating stress to a subject under assessment. The prototypes employ drivers positioned remotely to the subject outside the MR field. In one version, the mechanical waves generated by the driver are transmitted via a semi-flexible rod guided to various front-ends which are in direct contact with the patient. In another version, the driver rotates a long, flexible spindle which produces vibrations via an eccentric weight in a container in direct contact with the patient.
Due to the modular nature of the invention the standard drive module can be used with a number of different front transmission sections. Each front section is uniquely designed to address the specific organ that is to be imaged (e.g. brain, breast, cardiac, liver, kidney).
A number of collaborative clinical studies involving industry are underway involving diagnosis of breast cancer, brain tumours, Alzheimer’s Disease and abdominal tumours and fibrosis. Although the MRE technology is being used in the studies, King’s retains all the rights over the device innovations. King’s wishes to explore establishing a spin-out company to take the lead on developing the devices for research and clinical application and leading upon their commercialisation.
A priority application was filed in February 2015 and an International PCT application followed in February 2016 (App. No. PCT/GB2016/050490). The Written Opinion and International Search Report consider the majority of claims to be novel and inventive. National Phase entry is due during summer 2017.
KCL Principle Investigator:
Prof Ralph Sinkus,
Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering Division
Dr Ceri J. Mathews
IP & Licensing Manager
King’s College London