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‘Technological developments should be applied to patient care at a much faster rate’

An MRI scanner is much more than a machine alone. It is an extremely versatile technique that provides numerous opportunities for finding out more about the workings of the human brain, says Thijs van Osch, Professor of Radiology, with a particular emphasis on experimental cerebrovascular imaging. Inaugural lecture on 3 May.

These are great times to be a physicist working on MRI techniques, says Van Osch. ‘With the emergence of MRI scanners with a stronger magnetic field, new scan techniques and artificial intelligence (AI), the possibilities for recording the workings of the brain and learning from this data are increasing all the time. These developments mean that we can extract increasing amounts of information from the MRI signal. In the past, we mainly used MRI to look at the form and structure of the brain, but now we increasingly use it to study the workings of the brain.’

Measure circulation

‘The good thing about MRI is that you can measure many different things in a non-invasive, safe way,’ says Van Osch. ‘To measure circulation, for instance, we don’t need to inject anything into the blood but can label it from outside with a radio pulse. This means we can follow the blood and can see very precisely whether the circulation is reduced or increased. This is important information in patients with cognitive problems or brain tumours, for instance. We recently also managed to record for the first time the movement of water along the blood vessels. This is the first clue in the hunt for a lymphatic-like system in the brain.’

Faster integration into clinical practice

Such technological developments are fantastic, but the final goal is to apply them to patient care. Van Osch believes that the process from invention to application should be speeded up and improved. ‘The zeitgeist is against us: today it can take years to receive approval to use something in clinical practice. I think that hospitals should pay more attention to this, for instance by ensuring that clinical physicists, radiologists, their technical services and ethics work more closely together. If you ask me, it is essential to make a distinction here between technical developments with a high and low risk. The latter should be integrated into clinical practice at a much faster rate.’

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