Use advanced imaging to study sickle cell disease

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Dr. Tamer Ibrahim (middle) and Dr. Tales Santini (right) at the radio frequency research center at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Santini has the housing of the Tic-Tac-Toe coil system. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetically inherited group of red blood cell disorders. According to the CDC, it is estimated that between 90,000 and 100,000 people in the United States live with this disease and it disproportionately affects blacks or African Americans; it occurs in approximately 1 in 500 individuals in this demographic.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering used a unique and powerful MRI device to study the impact of the disease on the brain and published their results in Neuroimaging: clinic. They found that SCD can have a severe effect on specific subfields of the hippocampus, a very complex part of the human brain that controls learning and memory and is highly susceptible to injury or disorder.

“This is a first project of its kind that uses our lab’s 7-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (7T MRI) image alongside our optimized RF Tic Tac Toe head coil system to obtain clear, quality neural images of patients affected by SCD, “said Tamer Ibrahim, a professor of bioengineering and director of the Radio Frequency Research (RF) Center and the 7-Tesla Bioengineering Research Program (7TBRP).

People with SCD have red blood cells that contain abnormal hemoglobin. This can cause the red blood cells to become hard, sticky, and mutate into a single crescent shape that inhibits the passage of the cell through small blood vessels. These blockages affect blood flow and oxygen and, as a result, cause tissue damage, the source of many complications of SCD.

The 7 Tesla image has revealed hippocampal abnormalities for other neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases, so Ibrahim and his collaborators investigated SCD to see if it has a similar effect.

“Our findings support and extend previous reports of reduced hippocampal volume in patients with SCD, but provide more information on specific hippocampal subfields that are affected,” Ibrahim explained. “Subfields are small structures within the hippocampus that can only be seen in ultra-high resolution acquisitions (a feature of the 7 Tesla image) and enhanced with ‘Tic-Tac-Toe’ antenna technology.”

The next steps in this research are to investigate the mechanisms that lead to these structural changes in addition to electrical changes in the brain and how they relate to cognitive performance in patients with SCD.

Advancing in MRI technology with “Tic-Tac-Toe” themes

Ibrahim continues to improve the laboratory’s 7 Tesla imaging technology, which is leveraged in 28 active collaborative projects funded by the National Institutes of Health. It is the most widely used RF coil system in a given 7 Tesla location.

This advanced technology can provide human resonance imaging with higher resolution and improved contrast, but its operating frequency (~ 297 MHz) remains an obstacle to reaching the full potential of the device. Ibrahim’s group published recent findings related to its technology in Scientific reports.

“The main challenge of the 7 Tesla image is the inhomogeneity, or lack of uniformity, of RF fields inside the human head, resulting in brain images with gaps in certain anatomical regions,” said Tales Santini, associate postdoctoral fellowship in RF Research facility. “In the last twelve years, our laboratory has developed innovative designs of radio frequency antennas that greatly increase the homogeneity of the fields, thus enabling high-resolution whole-brain imaging with minimal or no gaps.”


“Tic-tac-toe” MRI technology is easy for neurological disease researchers


More information:
Tales Santini et al, Analysis of hippocampal subfields in sickle cell diseases using ultra high field magnetic resonance imaging, NeuroImage: clinic (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.nicl.2021.102655

Santini, T., Wood, S., Krishnamurthy, N. et al. Improving the homogeneity of the 7 Tesla transmission field by reducing electromagnetic power deposition by means of Tic Tac Toe coupled antennas. Rep. Sci 11, 3370 (2021). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79807-9

Citation: The use of advanced imaging to study sickle cell disease (2021, June 3), retrieved June 3, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-06-advanced-imaging -sickle-cell-disease.html

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