''Even if you have a 10-year-old who can stay in the magnet for 45 minutes but can't hold his breath like an adult can, you might need anesthesia or you'll get blurring. We're looking into ways of producing high-resolution images faster to get around this problem.''
-Shreyas Vasanawala, MD, PhD
Faculty Scholar award supports research, tranformative care
Imaging a child's internal organs can be a significant challenge for pediatricians. Magnetic resonance (MRI) is painstakingly slow; an alternative technique, computed tomography (CT), uses X-rays that can damage a young patient's DNA and potentially cause cancer later in life.
More pediatricians would use MRI if the technology and the equipment were designed to be more kid-friendly, says Shreyas Vasanawala, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at the Stanford School of Medicine. The Tashia and John Morgridge Faculty Scholarship in Pediatric Translational Medicine, awarded to Vasanawala in 2009, allows him to do just that.
New techniques that Vasanawala is developing could dramatically increase the use of MRI for diagnosing a wide range of childhood disorders, from cardiovascular disease to gastrointestinal illness.
"Shreyas is a very passionate and compassionate physician and scientist," says Richard Barth, MD, Radiologist in Chief at Packard Children's and chief of the division of pediatric radiology at Stanford. "His research sets the table for transforming MRI into a common pediatric procedure that is much less dependent on general anesthesia, which creates a huge roadblock in getting children access to a magnet. As a result of his work, MRI may soon replace many pediatric CT scans, reducing the radiation burden on children."
In 2007, Barth recruited Vasanawala to the faculty at Stanford, where he had spent the previous 13 years in a combined MD/PhD program followed by a surgical internship, residency training in radiology, and a pediatric radiology fellowship.
Vasanawala also is using his Morgridge Faculty Scholar award to develop new MRI equipment built specifically for kids. "The magnets and the coils you put on now are all made for adults, because that's where the market is," he says. "You can gain a tremendous amount of speed and image quality just by fitting the hardware to the size of the child." Vasanawala is now collaborating with a major manufacturer to create the first child-size MRI coil.
"I was elated when I found out I was getting a Morgridge Faculty Scholar award," he recalls. "This grant allows me to move forward much faster than I otherwise could have to develop multiple technologies that will ultimately improve pediatric MRI."