New Scanner Locates Defects in Lung Function

Imagery produced by a prototype of the 4Dx Small Animal Scanner that will be supplied to Cedars-Sinai depicts ventilation of the lung — the exchange of air during respiration. The movie shows air flowing in (red) and out (blue) of the airways of a rabbit pup's lung.

Cedars-Sinai has been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to buy a new type of scanner that provides detailed, real-time imagery of lung functioning in laboratory animals. Cedars-Sinai so far is the only U.S. institution scheduled to acquire this advanced instrument, which can help detect lung diseases in their early stages.

"The quality of the imaging is spectacular," said Debiao Li, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and professor of Biomedical Sciences. "This instrument will give us unique capabilities." Li is the principal investigator for the $600,000 project, a joint effort with the Women's Guild Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai.

Using a type of low-dose X-rays, the 4Dx Small Animal Scanner generates high-resolution, 3-D images of lung-tissue motion and airflow throughout the lungs. These moving images allow investigators to view and measure defective functioning in specific areas of the lung, before a disease progresses and spreads.

The new scanner addresses a dilemma in detecting pulmonary fibrosis, edema, emphysema and other lung disorders. The dilemma is this: While computed tomography — the gold standard for lung imaging — can provide detailed views of damaged tissues, the images are static and don't show how well these tissues are working. Current tests of lung functioning can only measure the performance of the lungs as a whole.

This image shows the degree of expansion (from high, in red, to low, in blue) of different areas of a mouse lung during ventilation.

"Pulmonary function tests are notoriously insensitive at detecting early stages of lung disease, when potential therapies might be most efficacious," said Andreas Fouras, PhD, a research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and visiting professor. "The problem is that if you have something happening in a corner of the lung, the rest of the lung compensates. So you can get fairly normal results on the tests even when disease is present."

Fouras is the founder of 4Dx Ltd., a medical technology company based in Melbourne, Australia, that developed the 4Dx Small Animal Scanner. Along with Heather Jones, MD, assistant professor of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai, he will co-direct a new Lung Imaging Program at the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute.

Jones and Fouras said the new scanner could save time and money by enabling researchers to track the progression of lung disease within a single laboratory animal over its lifespan. Current technology typically requires post-mortem examinations of multiple animals, each modeling different stages of a disease, to obtain this data, they explained.

The 4Dx Small Animal Scanner is expected to be available for use by the end of this year, Fouras said. Investigators from Cedars-Sinai will be the primary users, but outside scientists will have access as well. "We hope this instrument will foster a consortium of lung researchers in the Los Angeles area and beyond," Jones said.