Durham company's lung imaging technique could help long-haul COVID patients

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A company started by a Duke professor is behind a significant development in lung imaging that he believes will help COVID-19 patients with long-haul respiratory problems.

Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, is one of the great advancements in medical imagining technology.

But there's one area where the MRI's performance is limited according to that professor.

"It turns out the lung has kind of been the last frontier for MRI, where it doesn't do a great job," said Bastiaan Driehuys, "You know a MRI looks at the water in our bodies and the lung is not very full of water."

Years ago as a graduate student at Princeton, Driehuys was part of a team that discovered breathing xenon gas could enhance lung MRIs.

"It allows us to visualize the functioning of those lungs by looking at the way that gas distributes itself into the lungs, where the regions of health are, where there are regions that are not functioning as well," Driehuys said.

Bernie Mangiboyat knows all about lungs that aren't functioning well.

The owner of The Dragon's Lair comic book store in Fayetteville got COVID-19 four months ago and is still dealing with the effects.

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"It was my lungs. That's been the big thing," Mangiboyat said.

ABC11 reached out to him for reaction to the technique now being developed by the company Driehuys spun off called Polarean, he did a little research.

"When I went online and looked at the company, I thought man, just this would be a great thing for all the people who are going through what I have," he said. "It would just help them tremendously."

Polarean polarizes the xenon gas and puts it in a bag with a tube so patients can breathe it in and then hold their breath for just 10 seconds as the MRI machine does a quick scan and tracks the gas.

"It diffuses and follows the same path as oxygen, and so we've been able to develop a technique now where we can essentially image, the pathway that oxygen uses to as we breathe," Driehuys said.

And it's not just for COVID-19.

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It can also be used for asthma and cystic fibrosis and other respiratory diseases and give doctors a better understanding of the best way to treat patients according to Driehuys who said, "This is an imaging technique that can shine a light on exactly what's going on with their lungs and ultimately then help guide therapies that will improve the way they feel and function, and have a better quality of life."

While this is all still technically experimental, trials are wrapping up and Polarean expects full FDA approval later this year.

Just in time to help COVID-19 patients like Bernie Mangiboyat and so many others with lung diseases.

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