Seeing the details

Left to right: Healthy lungs and lungs with cystic fibrosis


“The technology difference is like comparing a Tesla to a horse and buggy,” said Dr. Jonathan Rayment, researcher and pediatric respirologist at BC Children’s Hospital, referring to how a new lung-scanning technology compares with older tests.

In 2020, Dr. Rayment and his team were the first in western North America to generate hyperpolarized xenon functional pulmonary magnetic resonance imaging (XeMRI) scans of human lungs. This cutting-edge technology, which was partially funded through donor support, represents a huge advancement in characterizing lung diseases by revealing a much higher level of detail than other lung function tests, allowing for more precise diagnoses.

“The current tests, such as spirometry, provide ‘whole-lung’ measurements,” Dr. Rayment said. “They don’t indicate if you have a little patch of disease in one specific spot, which may not show up on spirometry until the disease is really bad or has spread. But these XeMRI scans show very detailed lung function maps and can pinpoint specific areas of concern early on in the disease’s progression.”

Dr. Rayment and his fellow researchers at the BC Children’s Hospital MRI Research Facility are using this tool to find ways to improve care for children’s conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis and other lung diseases. Along with other leading MRI research centres across North America and the U.K., they are part of the XeMRI Clinical Trials Consortium, which is working to integrate XeMRI technology into the clinical care of people with these serious conditions.

“Understanding the patterns of regional lung function in children with different conditions can give us hints on how best to treat them,” Dr. Rayment said. “This concept of ‘treatable traits’ is central to our advanced diagnostics program in Respiratory Medicine at BC Children’s Hospital and I’m very excited to see how far we’ve come in such a short time.”


This article was originally featured in the Fall 2022 issue of Shine magazine.

Shine Fall 2022 | Download the PDF

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