Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Medical Biophysics


Dr. Grace Parraga


Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are characterized by airflow limitations resulting from airway obstruction and/or tissue destruction. The diagnosis and monitoring of these pulmonary diseases is primarily performed using spirometry, specifically the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), which measures global airflow obstruction and provides no regional information of the different underlying disease pathologies. The limitations of spirometry and current therapies for lung disease patients have motivated the development of pulmonary imaging approaches, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Inhaled hyperpolarized noble gas MRI, specifically using helium-3 (3He) and xenon-129 (129Xe) gases, provides a way to quantify pulmonary ventilation by visualizing lung regions accessed by gas during a breath-hold, and alternatively, regions that are not accessed - coined “ventilation defects.” Despite the strong foundation and many advantages hyperpolarized 3He MRI has to offer research and patient care, clinical translation has been inhibited in part due to the cost and need for specialized equipment, including multinuclear-MR hardware and polarizers, and personnel. Accordingly, our objective was to develop and evaluate imaging biomarkers of pulmonary structure and function using MRI and CT without the use of exogenous contrast agents or specialized equipment. First, we developed and compared CT parametric response maps (PRM) with 3He MR ventilation images in measuring gas-trapping and emphysema in ex-smokers with and without COPD. We observed that in mild-moderate COPD, 3He MR ventilation abnormalities were related to PRM gas-trapping whereas in severe COPD, ventilation abnormalities correlated with both PRM gas-trapping and PRM emphysema. We then developed and compared pulmonary ventilation abnormalities derived from Fourier decomposition of free-breathing proton (1H) MRI (FDMRI) with 3He MRI in subjects with COPD and bronchiectasis. This work demonstrated that FDMRI and 3He MRI ventilation defects were strongly related in COPD, but not in bronchiectasis subjects. In COPD only, FDMRI ventilation defects were spatially related with 3He MRI ventilation defects and emphysema. Based on the FDMRI biomarkers developed in patients with COPD and bronchiectasis, we then evaluated ventilation heterogeneity in patients with severe asthma, both pre- and post-salbutamol as well as post-methacholine challenge, using FDMRI and 3He MRI. FDMRI free-breathing ventilation abnormalities were correlated with but under-estimated 3He MRI static ventilation defects. Finally, based on the previously developed free-breathing MRI approach, we developed a whole-lung free-breathing pulmonary 1H MRI technique to measure regional specific-ventilation and evaluated both asthmatics and healthy volunteers. These measurements not only provided similar information as specific-ventilation measured using plethysmography, but also information about regional ventilation defects that were correlated with 3He MRI ventilation abnormalities. These results demonstrated that whole-lung free-breathing 1H MRI biomarker of specific-ventilation may reflect ventilation heterogeneity and/or gas-trapping in asthma. These important findings indicate that imaging biomarkers of pulmonary structure and function using MRI and CT have the potential to regionally reveal the different pathologies in COPD and asthma without the use of exogenous contrast agents. The development and validation of these clinically meaningful imaging biomarkers are critically required to accelerate pulmonary imaging translation from the research workbench to being a part of the clinical workflow, with the overall goal to improve patient outcomes.