A new type of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) could enable doctors to detect a number of diseases in a matter of minutes. Unlike the traditional MRI method, which generates an electromagnetic field and pulses of radio waves to map the body, Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting (MRF) works by generating the same field across multiple frequencies simultaneously and using software algorithms to decode the results.

Mark Griswold, a radiology professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, compared the difference between the techniques to the difference between two choirs. While MRIs "sing" a single tone, MRFs generate a rich harmony that can distinguish between multiple tissue properties. Researchers believe they could develop a "songbook" of diseases that will allow doctors to identify diseases based on their tone. "If colon cancer is ‘Happy Birthday’ and we don’t hear ‘Happy Birthday,’ the patient doesn’t have colon cancer," says Griswold.

MRF could prove an invaluable tool in the early detection of diseases.

The technique is also a potential time-saver. Scientists scanned a patient's brain with MRF and were able to tell the difference between gray and white matter in around 12 seconds, and believe the same results could be obtained faster in the future. In contrast, a traditional MRI can take as long as 90 minutes. There's still a lot of work to be done, specifically in identifying and mapping how different types of diseased tissue respond to the scans. With a fully-fledged "songbook," though, MRF could prove an invaluable tool in the early detection of diseases.