As a keystone in the study of disease mechanism and progression, quantitative Magnetic Resonance (MR) techniques have been at the core of the EPIC Study since its inception. When the EPIC Study began in 2004, MRI imaging was incorporated in the hopes of characterizing the clinical expression of MS in a way that had never before been possible. Nine years later we are working to expand on our original goal by encompassing all tissues at risk for MS, including the gray matter of the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerve.
Expanding the scope of the study to include all tissues of the central nervous system would not have been possible without the acquisition of a brand new 3T Siemens Skyra MRI scanner. Acquired in November 2012, our new scanner is the first worldwide to be optimized for MS imaging. Housed in the Neurology Clinical Research Unit (NCRU) of the Sandler Neurosciences Center, the scanner is perfectly situated at the hub of MS research at UCSF, allowing for greater collaboration centered on neuroimaging. Dr. Roland Henry and his team have designed improved protocols to capture the best brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve images possible. Equipped with the latest generation of Siemens software, the scanner is currently the best machine for spinal cord imaging due to 64 channels in the scanner bed that allow for full brain and spinal cord imaging in one uninterrupted session.
The advancements of this new machine are not limited to image quality and analysis as the Siemens Skyra scanner has many enhancements in patient comfort. A 70 cm – wide bore allows for more elbowroom during the scan. While the noise produced by the magnet has been substantially reduced, an audio input system integrated into the scanner makes it possible for patients to select their favorite music and all but mute the sounds of the scan. The head coil is equipped with a mirror, which allows loved ones (or just our MRI technologist, Bill) to be in view at all times. While each of these features alone may not seem like much of an upgrade, we hope that it is the little things that improve the MRI experience for our participants who return for a scan every year.