Spectroscopic issues in optical polarization of 3He gas for Magnetic Resonance Imaging of human lungs
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The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of human lungs for diagnostic purposes became possible by using nuclear spin hyperpolarized noble gases, such as 3He. One of the methods to polarize 3He is the Metastability Exchange Optical Pumping (MEOP), which up to now has been performed at low pressure of about 1 mbar and in low magnetic field below 0.1 T (standard conditions). The equilibrium nuclear polarization can reach up to 80%, but it is dramatically reduced during the subsequent gas compression to the atmospheric pressure that is necessary for the lungs examination. Further polarization losses occur during the transportation of the gas to the hospital scanner. It was shown recently that up to 50% polarization can be obtained at elevated pressure exceeding 20 mbar, by using magnetic field higher than 0.1 T (nonstandard conditions). Therefore, following the construction of the low-field MEOP polarizer located in the lab, a dedicated portable unit was developed, which uses the magnetic field of the 1.5 T MR medical scanner and works in the continuous-flow regime. The first in Poland MRI images of human lungs in vivo were obtained on the upgraded to 3He resonance frequency Siemens Sonata medical scanner. An evident improvement in the image quality was achieved when using the new technique. The paper shows how spectroscopic measurements of 3He carried out in various experimental conditions led both to useful practical results and to significant progress in understanding fundamental processes taking place during MEOP.
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