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June 10, 2014 - New Imaging Tools Produce Fantastic Outcomes (Part I)

This article is first in a two-part series about the sophisticated technology in our radiology department that gives University of South Alabama (USA) diagnosticians the ability to see in ever-greater detail inside the human body.


The 3 Tesla MRI machine at the University of South Alabama Medical Center.

In the 1960s movie, “Fantastic Voyage,” a miniaturized crew attempts to save a patient by entering their body to remove a blood clot. As they travel through the blood vessels in a submarine, they are provided with an intimate view of the inner workings of the human body.

While not at the Fantastic Voyage stage yet, sophisticated technology from the department of radiology at the University of South Alabama Medical Center is giving diagnosticians the ability to see in ever-greater detail inside the human body. The 3T MRI and biplane X-ray machines are unique to Mobile, and they have dramatically enhanced the department’s imaging capabilities, producing results that could be considered fantastic.

For radiologists, the equipment provides greater diagnostic tools, and for surgeons, more dynamic views while performing interventional procedures. The end result is more accurate and timely patient-centered care.

'Beautiful pictures' help solve medical mysteries

You may not think of an MRI machine as a beautiful thing, but if you’re Dr. Melanie Clark, assistant professor of radiology at the USA College of Medicine, it’s easy to become enamored of the results of the 3T MRI machine.


Dr. Melanie Clark, a Medical Center physician and assistant professor of radiology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

An MRI is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. The 3T designation means “3 Tesla,” which is the unit of measurement quantifying the strength of a magnetic field. The new machine replaced the previous 1.5 Tesla machine, doubling its imaging strength. It’s analogous to increasing focus on a microscope or telescope.

This increased imaging strength gives radiologists and physicians the detailed diagnostic data needed to help confidently diagnose a broad range of anatomical and skeletal problems in the human body. For Dr. Clark, who specializes in musculoskeletal imagining, it is used primarily for scanning bones and joints in orthopaedic patients.

“With a 3T you have much more beautiful pictures than with a 1.5.,” said Dr. Clark. “When I say beautiful, I mean superior images with much greater detail.”

Superior imaging helped Dr. Clark solve a medical mystery for one patient. The patient had consulted her doctor complaining of persistent foot pain with no obvious cause. The physician ordered an MRI of the foot. A tiny, foreign object, hardly bigger than a pinhead, was detected by the 3T. The object was so small that Dr. Clark said she believes it would have not have been seen by the 1.5 Tesla.

The new MRI, which was added in 2013, is the only one of its kind in the area, and gives patients a host of benefits.

“The benefit to a patient is that it can be a shorter, more comfortable and sensitive exam,” Dr. Clark says. “For the surgeon, it enables them to do better pre-operative planning which results in better surgical outcomes, and in some cases, no surgery at all.”

While some medical exploits are best left to the movies, every day the department of radiology at USA Medical Center is providing leading-edge care utilizing the latest medical technology to area patients.

Look for the second article of this two-part series, which will be published here June 12, 2014.

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