SALT LAKE CITY — University Hospital officials say they've produced a technological breakthrough that will allow doctors to diagnose and treat patients' strokes more accurately than ever before.

The new machinery, named Intra-operative Magnetic Resonance Imaging System, is the first in the world to use “tissue-clock” imaging to precisely pinpoint the timing and severity of a patient’s stroke.

Edwin “Steve” Stevens, chairman of the University of Utah’s Department of Radiology, initially proposed the idea in 2008 and has been developing it ever since. He said it is  the most accurate method for stroke diagnosis to date.

“This device can, in real-time, assess the brain and use unique parameters to tell us how many hours it’s been since your brain suffered a stroke,” Stevens said.

That information is significant because the time period between a stroke and its diagnosis can completely alter which treatment is most effective.

Typically, doctors will try to verify whether the stroke occurred within three hours — or four at the very most — before administering a powerful drug called IV-tPA to treat blood clots in the brain. If the drug is given after that time frame, it can worsen the patient’s symptoms. 

“We now have the ability to treat somebody based on what’s really happening in their brain versus guessing which time window is more likely to be accurate,” said Rick Shumway, director of the hospital’s Clinical Neurosciences Center.

Using another new technology, neurosurgeons at University Hospital can view an MRI image in real time while working on their patient. 

“We haven’t had these capabilities at the bedside, so it’s a real benefit for us,” said Stroke Center Director Jennifer Majersik. “We’ll be able to use this to better stratify patients and understand more quickly who benefits from what procedures and who doesn’t.”

And acting quickly is of the essence when treating a stroke victim, according to Stevens. For every 30 minutes a stroke goes untreated, he said a person is 10 percent less likely to regain all of their day-to-day functions.

“The more time that passes from the time of a stroke, the less tissue there is to save,” Stevens said.

The groundbreaking machinery occupies three rooms in the hospital’s Clinical Neurosciences Center — one for the initial MRI scan, another for active brain surgery and a third for less invasive catheter treatment. The project’s research and building phases cost the hospital approximately $11 million combined. 

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