Incredible amounts of data in new medical images

Nowadays, a photograph taken by a normal mobile phone camera is almost 2 MB in size. It is therefore possible to imagine the huge quantities of data produced by scanners that take thousands of three-dimensional images of a single body part or tissue sample.

Freddy Stahlberg

Freddy Ståhlberg shows how data from the forthcoming national 7 Tesla MRI scanner will be managed. The data will be collected at LU, but can then be transferred quickly and securely to researchers around the country.

Such scanners can be found at the Lund University Bioimaging Centre (LBIC). Pictures are taken that visualise the most intricate convolutions of the brain and the activity of different organs, and even of individual cells.

Taking care of this data flow places high demands on computer power, networks, storage technology, storage space, backup, fire and burglary protection, etc. When the images are of patients and research subjects, it is also very important that the images cannot be accessed by unauthorised persons.

“Studies on humans create specific demands for how image data is handled. Soon, some of this data could also become available to other universities and university hospitals”, says head of LBIC Freddy Ståhlberg, Professor of Medical Radiation Physics.

He is referring to the new 7 Tesla MRI scanner that will soon be installed in a copper-lined room in a newly built pavilion next to the main hospital building. Tesla is a measure of magnetic strength, and the new scanner will be a powerful tool for research on diseases of the brain. The scanner is expected to enter operation in the late spring next year, and some 40 research projects from across Sweden are already queuing up to use it.

The 7 Tesla MRI scanner is a national resource and not just a matter for Lund. Being given responsibility for it is a feather in the hat of Lund University, but it also raises entirely new questions. The data flow has to be organised so that the right people can access it in a secure way, regardless of where they are in Sweden.

“You could say that we are going to build up a network of cables that can transfer enough data in enough directions fast enough, at the same time guaranteeing that there are never any leaks along the way!” says Freddy Ståhlberg.

The 7 Tesla scanner will not be located at the University, but at the hospital, because they have the right expertise for studies on patients and healthy research subjects.

“We have had many discussions with Region Skåne’s lawyers and IT department to ensure that we take into account all the rules and regulations, including the Personal Data Act”, explains Anders Follin. He is in charge of IT at LBIC and is also technical manager at Lunarc (see related article).

The step from two-dimensional to three-dimensional biomedical images also meant a step towards ‘big data’, for instance allowing doctors to spin an image of a patient’s head and study the position of a tumour inside the brain ahead of an operation. The next step, which was taken a couple of years ago, was making new scientific infrastructure such as the 7 Tesla scanner nationally accessible and not tied to an individual university.

“Research infrastructure has become increasingly advanced and expensive, and the enormous quantities of data that are generated also require advanced and expensive equipment. The funding bodies therefore feel that certain new facilities must be national and not local resources”, explains Freddy Ståhlberg.

Text & photo: Ingela Björck

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