Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam have together developed a technique that allows detailed 3D imaging of complex muscle structures of patients. It also allows muscle damage to be detected very precisely. This new technique opens the way to much better and more patient-friendly diagnosis of muscular diseases. It also allows accurate, non-invasive muscle examinations among top athletes. Martijn Froeling received a PhD for this research at TU/e on Monday 29 October.
Froeling uses diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an MRI technique that allows the movements of water molecules in living tissue to be viewed. Because muscles are made of fibers, the movements of water molecules in the direction of the fibers are different from those in other directions. This characteristic allows muscles to be imaged with a high level of detail. This was already possible on a small scale with simple muscles, but thanks to Froeling's work it can now also be done on a larger scale and with complex muscle structures. More importantly, this improved technique also reveals very small muscle damage, because of the different movements of the water molecules in damaged muscle fibers.
To reach these results, Froeling improved the data acquisition process - the way the MRI scanner images the muscle under examination. This has to be performed relatively quickly, because it is uncomfortable for patients to lie in an MRI scanner for a long time, but at the same time it has to provide sufficiently detailed data. He also improved the processing of the acquired data into reliable 3D images. Physicians can now easily view complex muscle structures from all angles on-screen. No new equipment was needed; the researchers used standard widely available clinical systems.