Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a standard for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast, a method used to identify and monitor breast cancer.
The NIST instrument — a “phantom” — will help standardize MRIs of breast tissue and ensure quality control in comparing images within and between medical research studies. Phantoms mimic the response of human tissue to help test the performance of medical imaging systems.
NIST’s new breast phantom also can be used to compare MRI scanners and train operators. The phantom supports quantitative MRI, which is increasingly used for breast cancer diagnosis, staging, and treatment monitoring as well as for imaging other parts of the body.
NIST’s prototype breast phantom has been tested on MRI systems from two manufacturers in three configurations and produced accurate, quantitative images that could be used to evaluate common imaging procedures.
The NIST phantom is widely useful because it fits most major MRI scanner designs and meets a full range of common clinical imaging needs. In addition, the breast phantom generates image data that can be traced to international measurement standards. Older breast phantoms don’t offer all these capabilities.
The biggest design challenge was to create a lifelike mimic of both fat and fibroglandular tissue, says NIST project leader Katy Keenan who collaborated with researchers at the University of California San Francisco where the phantom is already used in clinical trials. It is currently used by five research groups.
“I believe the NIST phantom can have a big impact, especially because we are seeing more use of quantitative MRI for breast cancer,” Keenan says. “It will be used by both researchers developing new techniques and by radiologists using techniques in the clinic.”
The phantom has a flexible, modular design. The soft silicone shell (15 x 12.5 cm) enables fitting to different MRI scanners. Internal components are made of rigid polycarbonate to ensure regular geometry. The phantom has two basic types of internal arrangements, which can be paired for MRI scans.
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