Advanced scanner will build better cancer care for Albertans - Dr. AJB McEwan

Ross Neil - 25 May 2018

First scanner of its kind in Western Canada, PET-MR will be housed at Cross Cancer Institute and give clinicians information to provide personalized treatment.

The new PET-MR scanner at Edmonton's Cross Cancer Clinic will give clinicians and scientists a clearer picture of how both diseases and treatments are working in the human body. (Photo: Department of Oncology)

A new hybrid imaging scanner that will allow clinicians to provide more personalized treatment for patients of cancer and other diseases was unveiled today at Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute.

The PET-MR scanner-the first in Western Canada-allows physicians and scientists to look inside the body to better understand the biology of diseases such as cancer and the effects of treatment.

"It is truly the defining piece of equipment for functional imaging," said Sandy McEwan, project lead and a professor of oncology in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. "It takes an image from being a picture to being a biomarker and will start to give clinicians the information they need to provide personalized treatment. That is huge. It will help move us further towards ensuring that the patient gets the right treatment at the right time in the right dose."

Advantages of PET-MR imaging

  • Minute details and superior 3-D images are captured due to the high resolution and sensitivity of PET-MR scans.

  • Simultaneous image capture of the PET and MRI scans eliminates imaging problems caused by involuntary patient movementsuch as breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • PET-MR exposes patients to about 50 per cent less radiation than the next best technology.

  • The combined scanner reduces the need for patients to come in for multiple appointments.

  • Biological processes of disease can now be imaged in the patient to plan and monitor best treatments.

The new hybrid imaging scanner, which combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), represents a major leap forward in imaging and diagnostic capabilities, allowing doctors to seek more sophisticated information than could be found through the use of conventional PET-CT scanners used throughout Canada.

PET-MR has significant applications in the fields of oncology, neurology and cardiology, and produces some of the most highly detailed pictures of the inside of the body currently available. MRI scans by themselves use a magnetic field to produce images of the internal structures of the body and how well those structures are performing. PET scans use tracers to help health-care providers see how well a person's organs and tissues are working.

Previously, PET and MRI were considered incompatible for simultaneous scanning due to interference between the two technologies. Through the new PET-MR scanner, each can now be used concurrently, giving scientists a far more comprehensive image. According to McEwan, the advanced capabilities will allow scientists not only to better define tumours in patients, but also to understand the biology and biochemistry underlying them.

The $17-million project is co-led by the U of A's Department of Biomedical Sciences and Department of Oncology. It is supported by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Government of Alberta, Alberta Cancer Foundation, University Hospital Foundation and University of Alberta. Space for the facility is provided by Alberta Health Services.

Although the PET/MR will be used mainly for research, there will be early contributions to patient care through improved diagnosis and treatment planning for patients with neuroendocrine tumours and prostate cancer.

"We're going to see a lot of additional clinical interest in areas where we are already using PET-CT once practitioners start to see the clarity and detail available from PET-MR images," said Matthew Parliament, senior medical director for Cancer Control Alberta, Alberta Health Services.

"We're pleased our donors helped bring this cutting-edge technology to Alberta, allowing researchers to understand the biology of cancer at a whole new level," said George Andrews, president and CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. "This investment builds on considerable donor support in the area of imaging at the Cross Cancer Institute. We know this work is being led by some of the best and brightest minds in this field who will be able to use this new knowledge to improve outcomes for patients."