Non-Cartesian MR Microscopy for Cancer Imaging in Small Animals
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Mouse models of cancer are an invaluable tool for studying the mechanism of the disease and the effect of new therapies. Recent years have seen an explosive growth in the development of such models and consequently there is an increased need for better imaging techniques to study them. The goal of this work was to develop a technique that satisfied the requirements for preclinical cancer imaging: high spatial resolution, good soft tissue differentiation, excellent motion immunity, fast and non-invasive imaging to enable high-throughput, longitudinal studies.
T2-weighted and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been shown to be effective for tumor characterization clinically. But translation of these techniques to the mouse is challenging. The higher spatial resolution and faster physiologic motion make conventional approaches very susceptible to phase artifacts. Additionally, at higher magnetic fields required for these studies, T<super>*</super>2 and T2 are significantly shorter and T1 is longer, making in vivo imaging even harder.
A rigorous cancer imaging protocol was developed by optimizing and integrating various components of the system, including MR hardware, animal handling, and pulse sequence design to achieve reliable, repeatable and rapid imaging. The technique presented here relies heavily on the non-Cartesian sampling strategy of PROPELLER (Periodically Rotated Overlapping ParallEL Lines with Enhanced Reconstruction) MRI. The novel data acquisition and reconstruction overcomes the adverse effects of physiological motion, allows for rapid setup and acquisition and provides excellent tissue contrast. The sequence was optimized to enable T2-weighted and diffusion-weighted imaging in tumor-bearing mice with in-plane resolution of 117μm and slice thickness of 1mm. Multi-slice datasets covering the entire thorax and abdomen were acquired in ∼30 minutes.
The imaging protocol developed here was applied to a high-throughput, longitudinal study in a mouse model of liver metastases. The liver is a common site of distal metastases in colon and rectal cancer, and if detected early has an improved prognosis. Unfortunately, severe respiratory motion make it hard to image. The relative merits of the proposed PROPELLER technique were analyzed with respect to the accepted gold-standard for abdominal cancer imaging, computed tomography (CT).
The non-Cartesian MR microscopy technique proposed here is a valuable tool in the “Cancer analysis toolkit”. It allows for high-throughput, longitudinal experiments in free-breathing mice generating both structural and functional information with minimal artifacts and excellent spatial resolution. This work should find broad applications in various mouse models of cancer for studying the pathology of the disease, its progression as well as its response to treatment.
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