MADISON, Wis., May 30 (UPI) -- A new imaging method has revealed early signs of emphysema in smokers with no external symptoms, according to scientists at the University of Wisconsin.
The study, published in the June issue of Radiology, details a new magnetic resonance imaging technique that appears to be much more sensitive to lung changes than even the current modality of choice, computed tomography.
"With this technology, we have shown that it is possible to measure the severity of emphysema and its progression through time without the radiation exposure of lung CT tests," said lead author Sean B. Fain of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The researchers had 19 volunteers -- smokers and non-smokers -- inhale a special kind of "hyperpolarized" helium before they performed two MRI tests of the lungs. The first image the researchers acquired showed obstructed areas of the lungs, where the air was unable to pass. The second image they obtained is called an apparent diffusion coefficient, or ADC map.
"With this tool, it was shown that even smokers that appear healthy have enlarged lung airspaces that suggest emphysema is already developing," said Fain.