Research Horizons


Advancements in Specialized Imaging Create Innovative Airway Assessment Tool

Pulmonary Medicine | Top Scientific Achievement
2023 Research Discoveries

Pulmonary medicine researchers at Cincinnati Children’s are harnessing the power of phase-contrast magnetic resonance imaging (PC-MRI) to create a new tool for airway assessment that could significantly improve care for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). 

PC-MRI is often used to measure hemodynamic abnormalities. Until now, PC-MRI could not be used to measure airflow. Research associate Qiwei Xiao, PhD, and Alister Bates, PhD, led a team to discover that inhaled hyperpolarized xenon can be used safely to visualize airflow by MRI. Researchers generate an animated velocity map of the inhaled gas from the PC-MRI. Combining this image with proton MRI studies lets physicians see the relationship between a child’s anatomic airway obstruction and their functional airflow.  

This is the first study to use PC-MRI of inhaled hyperpolarized xenon in pediatric patients with OSA. Findings include:  

  • Proton MRI highlights narrowing at sites including the tongue, nasopharynx and epiglottis.  
  • PC-MRI reveals faster-moving airflow, demonstrating the effect of the obstruction on resistance to airflow.  
  • Rapid imaging shows the airflow pattern in inspiration and expiration, revealing how airflow changes throughout the breath.  

The new technique builds a model for more personalized diagnosis and treatment.  

This advancement creates the first tool that allows us to see which obstruction is responsible for disrupting airflow and causing the symptoms of OSA,” Bates says. These are the obstructions that need to be treated surgically.” 

Children with OSA often have multilevel obstructions, so identifying the primary site of collapse is vital to developing an effective treatment strategy.  

In the future, PC-MRI could be paired with existing clinical procedures such as drug-induced sleep endoscopy or anatomical MRI to add information about how anatomy and airflow interact. 

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Publication Information
Original title: Phase-Contrast Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Inhaled Xenon Reveals the Relationship between Airflow and Obstruction in Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Published in: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Publish date: April 24, 2023
Read the study

Research By

Qiwei Xiao, PhD
Qiwei Xiao, PhD
Research Fellow, Division of Pulmonary Medicine
Alister Bates, PhD
Alister Bates, PhD
Division of Pulmonary Medicine