UMN researcher aims to make MRIs faster, more precise

Mehmet Akçakaya was named a McKnight Land-Grant Professor last week.

Wesley Hortenbach

A University of Minnesota professor and researcher was named a McKnight Land-Grant Professor this month for his work to make MRIs faster and more precise.

Mehmet Akçakaya, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, developed a new MRI technique experts say could cut medical costs and improve patients’ experiences during scans. Patients are participating in the research at the University, which will be presented at a conference this summer.

“I did more hardcore math in my Ph.D., and I proved theorems, which is also satisfying, but with MRI … there’s a feeling of helping improve something in people’s lives,” Akçakaya said.

Akçakaya’s method makes images from MRIs clearer overall and reduces bright spots. This limits image distortion and makes it easier for doctors to identify visual elements like internal scars. Akçakaya uses image compression — which simplifies the image’s data — to reduce the number of measurements in an MRI while improving quality. 

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, MRIs usually require 30 to 60 minutes, but may take longer.

Michael Garwood, professor in the University’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, said patients tend to become restless the longer they have to sit under an MRI machine, and any movement can impact image quality.

Plus, the tight space and time-consuming process can make patients anxious or claustrophobic, meaning many are less willing to undergo MRIs, especially children, Garwood said.

“If it currently takes an hour per person, a doctor could see up to 12 patients per day at best [for MRIs]. If we are able to get people in and out within 20 minutes, then I’d hope that medical costs would go down,” he said

The research on this technique in the University’s CMRR has 300 participants, and the results will be presented at an MRI conference this summer, Akçakaya said.