7T MRI & Research for MS

The 7-tesla (7T) MRI displays brain tissue more intensely and with greater definition and contrast than the 3T MRI that is commonly used. This advanced imaging technology was approved for clinical use by the FDA in 2017 but has been used in research for several years prior. According to Cleveland Clinic doctors and researchers, it is having a notable impact on the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, degenerative brain disorders and brain tumors. You can listen to the discussion on their podcast or read more on the Cleveland Clinic blog.

Cleveland Clinic is one of about 50 institutions worldwide with a 7T MRI — and one of a select few that use it in close relation with an active hospital. And I’m getting one next week.

During my two days of diagnostic testing for HSCT, I had an in-depth appointment with several people on my neuro team, including a member of the research team. The choice was mine: would I be willing to undergo another MRI in the 7T prior to my bone marrow transplant as well as an identical scan one year post? I actually when back and forth but in the end decided that yes, I should do it for MS research.

Yearly MRIs have been my norm since diagnosis. Only recently have they become something to be feared. In 2021, for no discernable reason, I had a full blown panic attack in the middle of my MRI. Even with my cozy socks, warmed blanket and beloved Broadway showtunes blaring in my ears, I was quite upset and had to stop causing a rather lengthy delay. I was frantically pushing the panic button while inside the machine. Like an elevator, it doesn’t go faster if you push the button more, but tell that to my anxiety! My most recent MRI in early 2022 was a piece of cake thanks to a well-timed Xanax.

This super cool 7T MRI takes bonkers (my technical term) images. Side-by-side you can easily see the improved imagery. Unfortunately, the larger more intense magnet comes with a greater risk of side effects including nystagmus (which I already have), nausea, motion disturbances and dizziness. As someone who has occasionally suffered vertigo, it’s not a side effect to be taken lightly. But momentary (or hour-long) discomfort is worth it for research.

I want to provide as much information as possible to the study of HSCT and its impact on MS for other patients following my footsteps and for potential future FDA approval of HSCT as a treatment protocol for MS. It’s important. I go back and forth (sometimes in the same day) with wanting to further science and share my data and feeling at times like a lab rat. It’s a delicate balance to strike. We need continued education and research but as a patient, we want to feel like our medical team knows exactly what to do. As much as I hate feeling like a number (or my diagnosis) not a person, I will gladly share every blood test, scanned image of my brain and spinal cord as well as my hard-won personal experience if it helps move the needle in treating this horrible disease or in helping another patient feel less alone.

As this is done for research, my insurance will not be billed and the images aren’t in my electronic medical record. I might not even get to see them unless I beg my neurologist (which I absolutely plan to do).

I’ve been told HSCT is not a cure for MS. Its been clearly stated… repeatedly, that this treatment does not heal the past damage my central nervous system has already endured. However, it’s my basic understanding that with these scans they can see and measure if healing is possible among other things. With the improved imagery, they may be able to detect healing or reduction in lesion size and quantity. This is all hypothetical right now but the possibility exists. Maybe I’m crazy, but if the very smart doctors are measuring these things, I can believe and put my faith in the fact that healing is possible and that’s a prescription for hope to me!

With approximately 843 appointments currently in the queue of my MyChart, what’s one more?

If you’re interested in the current BEAT MS clinical trial studying HSCT, they are currently enrolling participants. If you are at least 18 and have continued relapses or active MRI while taking prescription medicine for MS, you may be eligible. 

You can search current clinical trials on your hospital website or talk to your physician. Click here to see a current list of clinical trials for multiple sclerosis at Cleveland Clinic.

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