Astronomers from the University of Edinburgh are collaborating with clinicians in trying to apply their expertise in fuzzy image processing to improve the output of MRI machines. The algorithmic techniques, though not specified, are probably based on speckle imaging methods that, thanks to modern computers, have been used in astronomy for a couple decades.
MRI scanning can record images of any part of the body from several angles and is used to examine organs or tissue. Patients who undergo scans may have to lie still for half-an-hour or more, while the scanner records successive layered images of their body, much like a slow-exposure photograph. If the patient moves, the images become distorted.
The astronomy algorithm corrects distortions caused by movement or caused by the scanner. This makes the technique especially suitable for use with children or seriously ill patients, and avoids patients having to undergo repeat scans to get accurate results.
Once an MRI scan is complete, it currently takes a long time to analyse the results fully, whereas the new algorithm can deliver results instantly – without an expensive supercomputer.
Presently many scans are useless because of distortion errors and have to be repeated, so this technology could save time and allow more patients to have faster access to appointments. It could also deliver substantial savings for healthcare providers.
Professor Alan Heavens, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics, said: “It was clear that we had the solution to a general problem – how to compress vast amounts of data into manageable, meaningful results – and we wanted to find applications for it. We estimate that in two or three years this technology, derived from pure astronomy research, will be bringing benefits to patients.”
Press release: Astronomers have better brain scans within their sights