Clinical MRI

The IVIF Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) modality provides comprehensive, economical, and state-of-the-art MRI services that enable real-time in vivo analyses of physiological, cellular, and molecular processes as well as in vivo analyses of responses to medical interventions. Services provided by the MRI modality include:

  1. molecular and cellular imaging techniques, pulse sequence design and implementation, imaging protocol development, contrast agent synthesis, and data analysis;
  2. expert consultation in the design and application of relevant MRI methods, enabling the selection of the most suitable technique for research studies; and
  3. guidance by trained personnel who have the technical skills and expertise to facilitate and implement the necessary MRI research protocols.

MR Imaging

Compared with survival studies, MRI gives Hillman investigators both earlier end points for assessing the efficacy of new treatments and insight into the molecular reasons why these new treatments may or may not work. This information provides specificity with respect to the treatment’s effect on the tumor and can even be used to identify the onset of tumor resistance to a given therapy.

The methodologies offered include:

  • Tumor volume measurements, which are simple measurements that directly assess the effect of a new treatment on a particular tumor type. Unlike survival studies, tumor volume studies allow an investigator to observe partial effects, and even temporary remission, with the implicit subsequent development of tumor resistance.
  • Tumor capillary transfer rates or permeability surface area products, tumor vascular plasma fraction, and extracellular volume space measurements, which can give physiological information about a treatment protocol at earlier stages than even tumor volume measurements. For example, these measurements provide insights into the molecular mechanisms and the efficacy of anti-VEGF and anti-angiogenesis treatments. They also enable in vivo analyses of drugs targeted to disrupt specific signaling cascades in endothelial cells and whether the drugs affect the end points of these signaling cascades. In the case of brain tumors, these types of measurements are one of the few that can differentiate between radiation-induced scarring and recurrent or residual tumor.
  • Measurement of tumor metabolites and drug concentrations with MRI and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) enables the in vivo monitoring of drug pharmacokinetics, drug activation, and tumor biology. It provides vital information on the actual conversion of prodrugs into active drugs or drugs into inactive metabolites and the intratumoral concentration of these drugs. These methods also allow investigators to monitor changes in tumor biochemistry as a function of treatment, growth, or metastatic potential.
  • Applications and development of techniques based on single and multiple quantum methods, for the measurement of low sensitivity nuclei, low concentration metabolites, and for directly detecting low concentrations of drugs. These methods provide a means of studying tumor biochemistry, drug activation, intra–tumoral drug concentrations, and intra-tumoral drug pharmacokinetics.
  • Custom methods development. Services are developed with user input and by surveying the Hillman community. Examples include regional blood volume measurements and perfusion studies. All of these methods provide Hillman investigators with tools that generate more information, and also have the potential to greatly benefit cancer research, clinical trials, and cancer treatments.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has a large number of investigations that involve biological therapeutics, anti-angiogenesis therapies, drug pharmacokinetic studies, MRS of breast cancer, and earlier biochemical markers of the transformed phenotype. The custom MRI methods may lead to quicker noninvasive strategies for diagnosing and staging primary or metastatic tumors and better monitoring of tumor responses to therapeutic protocols or standard treatments.

MRI Consultation Services

Most Hillman investigators lack exposure to and experience with MRI. To provide researchers with important awareness of the full capabilities of MRI, and to better identify the MRI/MRS methods that best fit their needs, the IVIF provides one-on-one consultative services.

Interested Hillman clinical researchers should contact Dr. James Mountz to discuss their research objectives and long term goals. In some cases, Dr. Mountz may bring these needs to the attention of a joint MRI-PET internal advisory committee, and the group will discuss and identify the appropriate modality or modalities.

MRI Equipment

The Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC) of UPMC currently houses the following equipment for human clinical research:

  • an integrated 3T simultaneous MR/PET scanner (Siemens mMR)
  • three 3T TIM Trio Siemens scanners
  • 7T Siemens scanner (with the same operating system as the 3T systems)