Scientists at UC Davis overcame difficult technical problems and succeeded in building the world’s first combined PET/MRI scanner. The two imaging modalities are naturally complementary, as MRI provides information about tissue structure while PET is a functional modality that informs about biological processes.
Combining the two types of scan in a single machine is difficult because the two systems interfere with each other. MRI scanners rely on very strong, very smooth magnetic fields that can easily be disturbed by metallic objects inside the scanner. At the same time, those magnetic fields can seriously affect the detectors and electronics needed for PET scanning. There is also a limited amount of space within the scanner in which to fit everything together, Cherry [Simon Cherry, professor and chair of biomedical engineering at UC Davis -ed.] noted.
Scanners that combine computer-assisted tomography (CAT) and PET scans are already available, but CAT scans provide less structural detail than MRI scans, especially of soft tissue, Cherry said. They also give the patient a dose of radiation from X-rays.
The photomultiplier tubes used in conventional PET machines are very sensitive to magnetic fields. So the researchers used a new technology — the silicon avalanche photodiode detector — in their machine. They were able to show that the scanner could acquire accurate PET and MRI images at the same time from test objects and mice.
Press release: MRI/PET Scanner Combo