New Diagnostic Tool for Respiratory Disease Help Patients Breathe Easier

    Doctors and researchers at the University of Missouri and MU Health Care have introduced a groundbreaking new tool to help people diagnosed with respiratory conditions breathe a little easier.

    By using the FDA-approved hyperpolarized xenon gas as an inhaled contrast for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, doctors can accurately measure lung ventilation, or function, in high detail. MRI machines use magnets to align the hydrogen atoms in your body, which is why they have traditionally been used to scan every type of body tissue except the lungs. Because our lungs are full of air, not water, MRI struggles to get a clear picture. The gas is now produced at MU Health Care’s NextGen Precision Health Building, and it’s used in a highly advanced MRI suite.

    This new diagnostic tool will help people with respiratory conditions —including asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis and more — diagnose and treat their illnesses earlier.

    “The traditional treatment for asthma has been a stepped approach, trying different drugs to see what works, clearly not precision medicine,” said Robert Thomen, PhD, associate professor of biological and biomedical engineering. “This new technology is completely different and allows patients to see their own breath in their own lungs. It doesn’t compare the patient to a pool of similar people, but shows us what makes you unique, medically.”

    The FDA-approved scan is identical to a traditional MRI but asks patients to inhale the non-reactive xenon gas and hold their breath during the 10-to-15-second scan. The resulting images show how a breath of air is drawn into the lungs. This gives patients and their doctors a better understanding of lung function, leading to faster and better treatments.
    “I want to see your lungs. I want to see how your lungs are functioning, and I want to be able to make a clinical decision and manage you based on your own anatomy,” said Thomen. “Precision medicine, the patient-specific approach.”

    MU Health Care is the second health system in the United States to use the gas, called XENOVIEW, in clinical patient scans.