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Joy Coger, an MRI technologist, checks the function of a patient's heart in the new Cardiovascular MRI suite. photo by Dana Johnson

Cardiovascular MRI lab offers precise tool to treat heart disease

BY: JESSICA PASLEY

8/26/2005 - Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the first facility in the region to operate a dedicated Cardiovascular MRI Lab designed specifically to evaluate the structure and function of the heart and blood vessels, giving physicians a powerful new method to determine prognosis and devise optimal treatment plans.

Vanderbilt cardiologists are using the new equipment to provide clinically relevant and reliable diagnostic and prognostic information in patients with cardiac and vascular diseases. Images are acquired without the use of ionizing radiation and with no interference from surrounding bone and soft tissue. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) delivers high-quality, detailed images of cardiac and vascular anatomy, flow and function all in one patient visit.

“With this technology, we are better able to plan the most appropriate treatments for our patients,” said Mark Lawson, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, Radiology and Radiological Sciences. “This is much more versatile and can be used for a vast array of heart conditions. In my opinion, this is the direction cardiac imaging is heading.”

With this new technology, the MRI can evaluate patients with hypertensive heart disease, birth defects involving the heart and blood vessels and abnormal valve function as well as patients with heart failure and prior heart attacks.

Lawson along with David Kerins, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, oversee the Cardiovascular MRI Lab, which began operation this summer.

Kerins said the new lab complements existing testing methods already in place at the Medical Center, but avoids the limitations of other techniques.

“Cardiovascular MRI provides us quantitative, highly accurate, and reproducible images, making MRI ideal for serial measurements over time,” Kerins said.

MRI is a simple and easy test for patients. Most cardiac MRI studies can be completed without the use of an injectable contrast agent. However, when a contrast injection is necessary, it is less toxic to the kidneys and does not affect blood pressure levels.

All cardiac MRI procedures will be performed in a custom-designed suite, which includes patient reception and waiting areas, private dressing rooms and a spacious imaging room with a courtyard view. Kerins said the placement of the new magnet required forethought because of its size and weight as well as the need to be in close proximity to the Emergency Department and Cardiac Catheterization Lab. It is located on the first floor of the Vanderbilt Clinic in suite 1770.

The Cardiovascular MRI team will send a CD of the patient images to referring physicians so that they will have easy, ready access to these high quality images to facilitate diagnosis and treatment plans.

“We are here to serve the community and offer them the best,” Lawson said. “We want to educate physicians about MRI and its utility to improve patient care. With this new technology, we are well on our way.”

An internal open house will be held Tuesday, Aug. 30 from 4-6:30 p.m. All faculty and staff are invited to tour and learn more about the new service.

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