The Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 8, 1998
June 8, 1998
VOL. 27, NO. 37


Hopkins, GE Begin Joint R&D Effort At Hospital

Medicine: Work on new MRI technology to focus on patients with acute heart disease and stroke

Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

In a unique collaborative effort, General Electric and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions have begun a two-year renewable agreement to research and develop innovative new high-speed magnetic resonance imaging technology that will provide, among other benefits, real-time movies of the heart.

This agreement marks the first time a major medical imaging equipment manufacturer such as GE will be integrated in a clinical environment.

A team of GE scientists and engineers will work alongside Hopkins scientists and physicians in order to design, develop and clinically evaluate the new MRI technology. In this way, advances made in the on-site research facility will be able to be implemented immediately.

"If successful, this collaboration will result in new MR technology that promises as great an impact on acute care medicine as MRI has had on the practice of radiology so far," said Elias Zerhouni, chairman of the Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, and the initiator of the collaborative effort.

On June 9 at 1 p.m., Zerhouni, university president William R. Brody and others will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the medical campus to kick off the collaboration.

Elias Zerhouni, initiator of the collaboration, predicts the new technology will have as great an impact on acute care medicine as MRI has had on the practice of radiology so far.

The initial phase of this program will focus on patients with acute heart disease and stroke. If successful, the non-invasive diagnostic work will help doctors more accurately and quickly identify problems and recommend treatments. The high-speed MRIs could also complement more invasive procedures such as cardiac catheters. Eventually the new scanners could be used to expand the capabilities for all MR applications, including cardiovascular, brain and cancer research.

Zerhouni says that GE will benefit by developing a new technology with a tremendous potential market base, while Hopkins will be able to provide better care for its patients.

Under terms of the agreement, GE and Hopkins will share the cost of the equipment with the assistance of a National Institutes of Health instrument grant. However, Zerhouni said, the sharing of information is the vital component of the agreement.

"We have some intellectual properties and patents they want to work on," Zerhouni said, "and in return we have access to their top-notch scientists, who have superior knowledge of the equipment and software. We hope that the cycle time for development will be much shorter."

Prior to the agreement, the implementation of new ideas was hampered by the fact that GE was not able to do clinical studies of critical care patients in its manufacturing facilities. Likewise, Hopkins scientists were limited in their ability to develop new MRI techniques. But now, with GE engineers on site, the process will be like driving with a mechanic in the passenger seat.

"Actually, more like having someone from Microsoft work in an office setting," said Paul Bottomley, a professor and researcher with the Division of MR Research, who helped negotiate the deal with GE. "They would be able to redesign the software based upon actual real life working conditions."

The research personnel, including four GE scientists and engineers, and one of two new scanners will be housed in the Houck Building basement area adjacent to the existing MRI scanners. In coming months, the second scanner will be located on the fifth floor of the hospital next to the critical care unit.

Bottomley said that with this new equipment a patient could have a single comprehensive exam of heart structure, function and metabolism, rather than having multiple diagnostic exams as is currently the case. The equipment also will improve the care and safety of the patients. For example, those who have suffered a recent stroke or heart attack would be immediately sent to the fifth-floor scanner next to the critical care unit.

"The patients could then have direct and immediate access to the benefits of the MR equipment," Bottomley said. He added that the existing scanners and personnel in the Houck basement are not logistically located or equipped to deal with these critical cases.

Unlike existing MRI scanners that take pictures of still organs such as the brain, the new lighter, faster MRI equipment will be able to scan moving organs more rapidly, much the way a fast shutter speed on a camera captures a clear picture of a body in motion.

MRI scanners, of which there are roughly 7,000 in the world, use the magnetic properties of nuclei in atoms to make images of the water distribution in the body. MRI patients are put inside a large cylindrical magnet that is connected to computer equipment that displays images of the desired organ.

In the past, siting of MR equipment was a problem, due to its weight and interference with other medical equipment. However, improved MR technology has reduced the extent of its magnetic field, as well as its weight, and these improvements allow the scanners to be in close proximity to the critical care unit.