Imaging tech. may identify pandemics and their cause

The Methodist Hospital Research Institute and Philips Healthcare are developing imaging technology that can be used to identify when an epidemic will begin and, potentially, what causes it.

Methodist’s scientists, led by Dr. King Li, plan to use an imaging center that is currently under construction, but will include a PET-C scanner, a SPECT-CT scanner, an MRI and a device called a C-arm, according to The C-arm can study patterns of tissue damage and metabolic disarray caused by infectious diseases without exposing the suite to any infectious agents.

"The ability to have imaging suites that can handle high level infectious agents allows us to be more prepared in the community for these types of events and, more importantly, allows us to study ways to deal with their consequences," Li said, reports.

The $8.6 million suite is expected to be finished in late August. It will have air-tight containment vessels that make it possible to scan potentially infected samples and research models without the risk of exposure to patients and staff.

"No one can do longitudinal imaging studies anywhere at the moment," Ed Jones, the vice president of operations for Methodist, said, reports. "Researchers at Methodist will be able to do live imaging studies that give them crucial information about how and where infections are progressing. This is what can happen when the best scientists and engineers from academia and industry become partners in advancing the state of the art in medical technology."

Methodist is expected to be the sole practical test site for the development of advanced imaging technology that can study pathogens that require biosafety level 3 containment.

"After 9/11 and the SARS outbreak in southeast Asia, the NIH wanted to build a BSL-4 imaging suite for studying infectious agents, both natural and bioterrorism-related," Li said, reports. "I was at the NIH at the time, and helped design the imaging equipment for that facility.”

According to LI, one of the project’s ultimate goals is to develop a facility that is equipped to diagnose diseases among a large number of patients.

"If the partnership with Philips is successful, the Methodist Hospital Research Institute can take the next steps toward creating the only clinic in the world expressly designed to image patients with infectious agents, such as multi-drug-resistant TB," Li said, according to "This will allow for medical centers in the world to be more prepared for emerging diseases and bioterrorism."