A new technique for conducting cardiac MRI imaging tests can improve patient comfort, shorten testing times and could increase diagnostic accuracy and reliability.

A team of researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the US developed the technique, which they call MR Multitasking. It has been designed to help cardiologists get a still MRI image of a patient’s heart. They aim to solve the problem of heart beats and blood flow blurring scan pictures when using the conventional method.

Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and the dean of the Cedars-Sinai medical faculty, said: “It is challenging to obtain good cardiac magnetic resonance images because the heart is beating incessantly, and the patient is breathing, so the motion makes the test vulnerable to errors.

“By novel approaches to this longstanding problem, this research team has found a unique solution to improve cardiac care for patients around the world for years to come.”

Current cardiac imaging methods involve asking patients to hold their breath whilst the MRI images are being taken, requiring each image to be timed precisely to a specific part of a heartbeat. This approach had proven difficult, unreliable and unsuitable for patients, in particular for those patients with irregular heartbeats or breathing problems.

The Cedars-Sinai researchers decided to base their new technique around embracing the movement of breathing and heartbeats.

Dr Anthony Christodoulou, a research scientist in Cedars-Sinai’s Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and the study’s first author, said: “Our solution is like making a video instead of a still image.

“MR Multitasking continuously acquires image data and then, when the test is completed, the program separates out the overlapping sources of motion and other changes into multiple time dimensions.”

The study, which was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, involved ten healthy volunteers and ten cardiac patients and was found to be accurate. The patients reported being more comfortable because they were no longer required to hold their breaths. Three cardiac MRI tests could be conducted in as little as 90 seconds using the MR Multitasking technique as it allows data to be collected throughout the entire test and sorted afterwards. Standard approaches take much longer.

Incorporating motion and time into the MR Multitasking analysis results in the images having six dimensions.

Christodoulou explained: “If a picture is 2D, then a video is 3D because it adds the passage of time. Our videos are 6D because we can play them back four different ways. We can play back cardiac motion, respiratory motion and two different tissue processes that reveal cardiac health.”

MR Multitasking is currently used in several medical centres in the US and China. The researchers are looking to further explore the technique so it could be applied to patients with other diseases, such as cancer.