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Philips allies with universities to form Ohio consortium in molecular imaging


Ultrahigh-field MR scanner will be cornerstone of initiativePhilips Medical Systems has gotten atop a multimillion dollar R&D initiative in Ohio aimed at advancing the art of molecular imaging. The Dutch company will leverage its

Ultrahigh-field MR scanner will be cornerstone of initiative

Philips Medical Systems has gotten atop a multimillion dollar R&D initiative in Ohio aimed at advancing the art of molecular imaging. The Dutch company will leverage its MR facility in Highland Heights, OH, to build a 7T system for installation at Ohio State University as part of the state's Biomedical Structural, Functional and Molecular Imaging Enterprise. A second 7T system might be sited at Case Western Reserve University, depending on available funds.

The Philips 7T system will be OSU's second ultrahigh-field scanner. An 8T system has been operating at the university for about five years. Research on this system has helped forge connections between routine clinical results obtained at 1.5T and 3T, as well as findings obtained through animal studies. The 7T scanner will further enhance those connections, said Michael Knopp, Novartis chair and director of imaging research in the OSU radiology department.

"There have been great advances on high and ultrahigh-field small-animal imaging, and they have been very indicative that the higher fields are going to allow new ways of functional imaging," he said.

The 7T scanner to be installed at OSU will be used as a high-resolution chemical microscope, according to John Patrick, Philips' director of business development for MRI. In concert with contrast agents and chemical assays achieved through multinuclear MR spectroscopy, the scanner will not only allow the differentiation of tissue types and biological processes, but will also shine a light on biological effects of therapies.

The collaboration with academia will provide access to expertise and facilities that could prove invaluable to Philips' R&D efforts in ultrahigh field, Patrick said. Among these are relationships and facilities associated with Case Western's Ohio Cellular and Molecular Imaging Consortium, which recently obtained substantial funding for programs in high-tech animal imaging.

"Our work with this group will aid the translation of molecular imaging results from animal to human applications," he said.

OSU's experience with 8T, particularly the knowledge gained regarding patient safety, will also help Philips develop 7T, Patrick said.

The multiyear program with OSU was announced May 28 amid political fanfare orchestrated by Governor Bob Taft. The molecular imaging consortium is the first of the governor's so-called Wright Center of Innovation enterprises. Like other such planned enterprises, it is designed to attract or expand high-tech research and manufacturing to Ohio. An expert panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences under contract from the state evaluated proposals for Wright Center funds. This consortium includes three major collaborators: OSU, Case Western, and Philips.

About $9.1 million in funding for the molecular imaging enterprise will come from the state as part of its Third Frontier project, a 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative to position Ohio to capitalize on future economic opportunities. Philips is also contributing funds to the collaboration. The funds will be used for both equipment and staff, including some 50 faculty-level investigators and 30 graduate students.

The industry as a whole has jumped on the ultrahigh-field bandwagon. OSU's 7T scanner will be one of 10 such systems Philips plans to build over the next three years. Siemens has already installed two 7T systems: one at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMMR) at the University of Minnesota, the other at Massachusetts General Hospital. Two more are on order.

GE Medical Systems placed a 7T scanner at the National Institutes of Health earlier this year. The magnet was being cooled in May in preparation for human studies. GE is also building a 9.4T system at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Before this system becomes operational, however, CMMR will likely take the ultrahigh ground in MR. Engineers led by J. Thomas Vaughan, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Minnesota and director of the CMMR Engineering Core, are putting the finishing touches on their custom-built 9.4T system.

The lure of 7T and beyond has been enhanced by the mainstream commercialization of 3T. Luminaries believe that early signs of disease might be recognized at 3T or 1.5T, if they can be documented at ultrahigh field. Otherwise, these signs might be indistinguishable from the noise that clouds the MR signal.

Philips' involvement in the OSU molecular imaging program is important both symbolically and practically. The collaboration raises Philips' profile as a pioneer in MR and molecular imaging. It will also help provide the foundation on which the company can build a commercial 7T program, Patrick said.

Philips is committing 35 staff at the Highland Heights facility to the production of 7T systems. The reproducibility that will come from steadily building such systems is necessary if the company is to capitalize on what Patrick believes will be a future opportunity to sell 7T systems for the study and development of pharmaceuticals.

He expects to run into engineering challenges but none that are likely to throw a wrench in the works. Managing field inhomogeneities will be one challenge, but Philips may already have the means to tackle this.

"We believe that new implementations of sensitivity encoding (SENSE) technology will actually be able to exploit these inhomogeneities," Patrick said.

Other solutions will address clinical issues, such as understanding how to apply and interpret chemical analyses, and how best to implement multinuclear capabilities. In overcoming these challenges, Philips will position itself for future growth.

"We will learn how we have to change the way we are doing MR to exploit the benefits of going to ultrahigh field," Patrick said.

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