Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Medical Biophysics


Dr. Grace Parraga


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide and accounts for the highest rate of hospital admissions in Canada. The need for sensitive regional and surrogate measurements of lung structure and function in COPD continues to motivate the development of non-radiation based and sensitive imaging approaches, such as hyperpolarized helium-3 (3He) and xenon-129 (129Xe) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The static ventilation images acquired using these approaches allows us to directly visualize lung regions accessed by the hyperpolarized gas during a breath-hold, as well as quantify the regions without signal referred to as the percentage of the thoracic cavity occupied by ventilation defects (VDP). The lung micro-structure can also be probed using diffusion-weighted imaging which takes advantage of the rapid diffusion of 3He and 129Xe atoms to generate surrogate measurements of alveolar size, referred to as the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC). Here we evaluated COPD lung structure and function using hyperpolarized gas MRI measurements longitudinally, following treatment and in early disease. In COPD ex-smokers, we demonstrated 3He VDP and ADC worsened significantly in only 2 years although there was no change in age-matched healthy volunteers, suggestive of disease progression. We also evaluated COPD ex-smokers pre- and post-bronchodilator and showed regional improvements in gas distribution following bronchodilator therapy regardless of spirometry-based responder classification; the ADC measured in these same COPD ex-smokers also revealed significant reductions in regional gas trapping post-bronchodilator. Although 3He MRI has been more widely used, the limited global quantities necessitates the transition to hyperpolarized 129Xe, and therefore we directly compared 3He and 129Xe MRI in the same COPD ex-smokers and showed significantly greater gas distribution abnormalities for 129Xe compared to 3He MRI that were spatially and significantly related to lung regions with elevated ADC. Finally, we demonstrated that ex-smokers with normal spirometry but abnormal diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) had significantly worse symptoms, exercise capacity and 3He ADC than ex-smokers with normal DLCO. These important findings indicate that hyperpolarized gas MRI can be used to improve our understanding of lung structural and functional changes in COPD.