Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Lighting up Lungs

To get crystal clear MRI pictures of the lungs, just take a deep breath–of helium.

Magnetic-resonance imaging has dramatically improved doctors’ views of the body. But obtaining clear pictures of the lungs has been a struggle. Now researchers at Harvard Medical School have found a way to make these MRIs crystal clear.

In an experimental procedure for performing lung MRIs, a patient takes a breath of polarized helium, which naturally spreads through the lungs’ branching airways to the oxygen-filtering sacs at their ends. The gas becomes magnetized and highlights the airways in the scan-but the sacs light up, too, which largely blocks the view. The Harvard researchers have improved upon this method: hyperpolarized helium is administered as the patient inhales for several seconds, while the MRI scanner records a series of images of the gas spreading through the airways. Radio-frequency pulses from the scanner also depolarize the helium that reaches the air sacs-producing clear images of just the airways. The technique could aid diagnoses of asthma and cystic fibrosis. Durham, NC-based startup Polarean is commercializing polarization systems that will enable these types of MRIs; the company plans to pursue FDA approval starting in 2005.

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.