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Microsoft is partnering with Case Western Reserve University to improve MRI technologies using quantum computing and augmented reality. (Microsoft Photo)

MRIs are one of the most commonly used diagnostic tools, but the technology behind that imaging has remained largely the same for decades.

Researchers at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University are working to improve that technology, and Friday they got a big boost from a new partnership with Microsoft.

The tech giant announced it is working with Case Western researchers to put advanced quantum computing to use in creating higher quality imaging technology, as well as using the Hololens augmented reality platform to present the images to doctors in 3D.

“This scenario is a great example of an organization using quantum technology to solve the real-world challenges of today,” Todd Holmdahl, the corporate vice president of Microsoft Quantum, said in a blog post announcing the partnership.

In a nutshell, Case Western researchers are working to make MRIs more effective and consistent by scanning in a “continuously variable” way, instead of scanning one fixed setting at a time. “Scanning in this way links the images directly to quantitative properties of diseased or healthy tissue,” a  spokesperson said.

For now, the researchers are focusing on improved imaging for cancerous tumors.

“This approach brings significant improvements over traditional MRI methods, but the remaining challenge is in identifying the best sequence of pulses and readouts in order to achieve the best scan efficiency, or an acquisition optimized for identifying a particular disease,” Holmdahl said.

Microsoft is using its quantum-based algorithms to bridge that gap, letting the researchers draw on the power of quantum computing using their existing computing resources.

The partnership is the latest in Microsoft’s push towards working in the healthcare space, a move that was started last year with the announcement of the company-wide Healthcare NExT initiative. The idea is to find useful applications of existing Microsoft technology in the healthcare world and implement them through partnerships instead of through an internal effort.

“We see incredible possibilities to not only improve the quality of healthcare and medical research, but also demonstrate how quantum computing, machine learning, and mixed reality can be combined to turn challenges of the past into solutions of the future,” Holmdahl said.

Many of the Healthcare NExT initiatives so far have focused on artificial intelligence, including a partnership with Seattle company Adaptive Biotechnologies that is aiming to use AI to create a universal blood test that diagnoses hundreds of diseases at once.

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