Bigger is not always better. And at OMRF, physicians and patients are learning this lesson from a new piece of equipment—a compact MRI that is the first of its kind in the state.
Installed at OMRF this year, the device (known as a compact extremity magnetic resonance imager) allows patients to simply place a hand or foot—rather than their entire bodies—into the machine. The MRI then uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create an internal picture of the extremity.
The 2,800-pound unit, which is housed in OMRF’s clinical pharmacology research program, is the only MRI of its type in Oklahoma used specifically to track disease.
Physicians have started using the MRI to track bone erosion, often associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The MRI provides a detailed, three-dimensional look inside bone and reveals the holes, or erosions, and joint inflammation. This imaging technique is the most sensitive method for diagnosing avascular necrosis (osteonecrosis), which is a disease resulting from the temporary or permanent loss of blood supply to the bones.
“Steroids can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, but they can on the other hand cause avascular necrosis,” said OMRF rheumatologist Ewa Olech, M.D. “By using this MRI to see inside the bones, we can make a quicker, more accurate diagnosis and begin proper treatment immediately. X-rays, though often considered the gold standard in imaging, can’t provide that kind of information.”
The MRI helps immediately detect changes in bone and joint, allowing physicians to target and treat the right problems at the right time. “I’ve been surprised by how much this technique tells us about other patients with arthritis, especially lupus patients who often have only very subtle external signs of this process,” said Joan Merrill, M.D., head of OMRF’s clinical pharmacology research program.
For patients who suffer from claustrophobia, the extremity MRI is a particularly good match, as it allows them only to place their arm or leg into the machine.
Olech, who is originally from Poland, first used a specialized MRI during a fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz. She joined OMRF in March 2005 to conduct clinical research in rheumatology. Her expertise with the specialized MRI is earning her speaking engagements across the country, including an address at a national rheumatology conference this November in Washington, D.C.
Olech also is conducting an observational study to find the best way to use the MRI to diagnose and monitor the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. If you suffer from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis and would be interested in participating, please call 405-271-7805.