Thomas Ernst, a professor and physicist from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine, has developed a revolutionary new system in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. A breakthrough so significant, it will probably be found in just about every hospital in the United States one day.
That’s the hope for a new local company called KinetiCor Inc. that’s commercializing the technology. The biggest challenge with an MRI is patient motion.
“You got to lie still for 45 minutes in a tube essentially and those small or large motions can compromise the image,” said Jeffrey Yu, the president and CEO of KinetiCor. “It is very similar when you take a picture. You don’t want the camera or people moving because it blurs the shot.”
The blurry, unusable images from such an expensive procedure rack up healthcare cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Often times, patients, like small children, have to be sedated. Ernst and fellow researchers came up with a solution—prospective motion correction.
“The idea is really that we track the movement of the head in real time and then apply corrections to the scanner so that the images show no blurring basically,” said Ernst.
The key is a small marker that is applied to the forehead of the patient, which is then tracked by a camera in the imaging machine.
“The corrections are very fast and they are very highly accurate,” said Ernst. “You can actually see people breathe when they are in the scanner.”
Funding to commercialize the new technology came from the University of Hawaiʻi’s Upside Venture Fund, HMSA and the Queen’s Development Corporation, equity investors in KinetiCor.
It’s an example of how research can attract investment. Developing Hawaiʻi’s research industry, specifically research done by UH and its partners like Queen’s Medical Center in this case, can play a significant role in Hawaiʻi’s economic future. That’s the mission of the University of Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative, or Hi Squared.
“If we could do that, then more researchers would be interested in coming here, the researchers who are here get to see their technology being applied and helping people,” said Yu. “Then the money that comes in for the commercialization effort can go to fund additional research work.”
Ernst is anxious to see his prospective motion correction technology become an every day reality.
“So that ultimately the patients and children, let’s say that are in the scanners and can’t hold still, that they are the ones that ultimately benefit from all of this,” said Ernst.
The project was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse over the past 6 years, at a total cost of approximately $3.5 million.
Read the University of Hawaiʻi’s HI² news release for more information.