Department of Radiology | Research & Innovations

The Department of Pediatric Radiology at Boston Children's Hospital is one of the largest and most respected pediatric radiology programs in the world and has continued to be a leader in innovation. Faculty members in the Radiology Department Research Center participate in clinical research activities, and many do laboratory research as well.

Interventional radiology innovations 

Angiography in children

Angiography in children is different than in adults, because children have smaller and more delicate blood vessels. Our interventional radiologists and neuroradiologists are highly trained in using the specialized techniques and small catheters necessary for performing this procedure in children.

Interventional neuroradiology

We are one of the few centers in the world that specialize in minimally invasive, image-guided treatments for aneurysms and disorders of the brain, head, neck and spine in babies and children. Learn more.

New ways of treating and diagnosing vascular malformations

Vascular malformations are tangled and misrouted arteries and veins, which cause pain, swelling, and disfigurement. Because Children's operates a world-famous Vascular Anomalies Center, we have extensive experience in using interventional techniques to evaluate and treat abnormal blood vessels without the need for surgery.

We also specialize in:

  • pediatric tumor diagnosis and therapy
  • radiofrequency ablation, a technique in which an electrode is delivered through a needle to "burn" bone lesions and tumors.  

MRI innovations 

Functional MRI (fMRI)

MR technology allows physicians to see the anatomic structure of the body's organs and tissues. Functional MR (fMR) enables physicians to see how the body functions. An fMRI is performed on a conventional MRI unit that consists of a very large magnet and uses a safe, non-invasive magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to take pictures of the brain while it is working. The technique measures changes in blood flow all over the brain. In this way, the fMRI scan allows us to see what areas of the brain are activated during a specific activity.  For example, by having people perform simple tasks during the scan (such as moving digits or limbs) we can see which part of the brain controls those tasks.

At Boston Children's Hospital, fMR scans are used to provide additional information used for treatment planning for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, brain tumors, brain injury, mental retardation, autism, and learning disabilities. The hospital's Dream magazine also looks at fMR.

Image fusion and post-processing

The Advanced Image Analysis Laboratory allows radiologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and referring clinicians to maximize information gained from computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine exams. The three-dimensional models, fused images, and other advanced post-processing methods improve patient care by aiding diagnosis, treatment planning and surgical intervention. The images can also be used for patient-friendly explanations and answering research questions.

Try Without Anesthesia Program

The Try Without Anesthesia Program at Boston Children's Hospital provides patients of all ages the opportunity to try their CT or MRI scan without the use of anesthesia, when applicable. Since implementing the program in 2016 we have had success in getting many of our patients through their scan by using fast sequences and preparing patients before their appointment.

In MRI, movement can cause the images to be blurry so we use a variety of techniques to help children lie still, such as listening to music or watching videos during the scan. Motion-reduction sequences are also used to improve the quality of the images. When available, our MRI Child Life Specialist (CLS) can help prepare children and families before and during the MRI to make the visit as safe, pleasant, and comfortable as possible.

For our infant and toddler patients we invite families to book appointments during their child's nap-time as we try to have the child complete the MRI scan while sleeping. We also offer Tuesday night appointments in Boston where families are able to book an appointment at 9:00pm to coincide with their child's normal bedtime. Families are sent home the sounds of an MRI camera and asked to play these sounds while their child sleeps in the nights before the appointment.

In CT, our Boston scanners are equipped with the latest technology allowing some images to be taken in less than a second! For our infant and toddler patients, families can book appointments during their child's nap-time and we can try to capture the images while their child is sleeping.

To learn more, please read our article on Boston Children's Hospital's Thriving blog or contact Kellyn Mahan or Jess Cerullo (CLS) at 617-919-6359. Our program would be happy to review your child's MRI or CT scan with you to determine if a Try Without appointment would be a good option. 

Motion mitigation and accelerated image acquisition

Movement during the MRI will cause the images to be blurry. Motion mitigation sequences track the head motion of a patient and readjust the image acquisition to account for a child’s movement during the scan. These are not yet commercially available, yet we use them routinely.

We also have custom made 32-channel head coils for newborns and six-month-olds to improve signal to noise and our ability to accelerate image acquisition.

MRI imaging to reduce exposure to radiation from CT exams

In order to limit exposure to radiation, we are performing MRI studies for exams that were previously routinely imaged by CT. For example, IBD studies and ventricular size checks are now being performed using MRI, resulting in a decreased lifetime cumulative radiation dosage. Additionally, some airway (sleep apnea) exams are being obtained with MR instead of CT.

MR tractography

MR tractography uses data sets from diffusion weighted images to show white matter organization and orientation of white matter fibers in the brain. Tractography is helpful for preoperative planning and understanding seizure propagation in epilepsy and other brain disorders. In the future, it may also be able to play a role in evaluating how the brain as a whole is connected, and how such connectivity is altered in certain disease states.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) monitors neural activity by recording magnetic fields in the brain. Current MEG devices are only available in adult sizes. In collaboration with the National Science Foundation, we are designing and building the first whole head MEG system for infants and children aged 0 to 3 years. This system will have the technical capabilities needed for monitoring neural activity in young patients.

Encephalographic MRI

Encephalographic MRI (eMRI) is a research technique that combines advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEGs) in an attempt to more directly image the electrical changes in the brain than was previously possible. Early results demonstrate fast eMRI responses that correlate well with epilepsy spikes on the EEG. Work is now directed at trying to use eMRI to help with surgical planning for epilepsy patients. More generally, eMRI may prove to be a powerful tool for understanding the origin and spread of abnormal electrical activity in the brain in various epilepsy syndromes, both during wakefulness and sleep.

Nuclear medicine and molecular imaging innovations

Nuclear medicine physicians and scientists are an integral part of the Dana-Farber/Children's Cancer Care team's MIBG treatment for children with relapsed neuroblastoma (cancerous tumors that originate in the nerve tissues). The treatment, which uses a radioactive compound to kill tumor cells, is available in only a handful of major medical centers in North America and is the first therapy of its kind to be offered in New England.