After being hyperpolarized using the technique of Metastability Exchange Optical Pumping (MEOP), 3He can be used as a contrast agent for lung magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MEOP is usually performed at low magnetic field (∼1 mT) and low pressure (∼1 mbar), which results in a low magnetization production rate. Polarization preserving compression with a compression ratio of order 1000 is also required. It was demonstrated in sealed cells that high nuclear polarization values can be obtained at higher pressures with MEOP, if performed at high magnetic field (non-standard conditions). In this work, the feasibility of building a high-field polarizer that operates within a commercial 1.5 T scanner was evaluated. Preliminary measurements of nuclear polarization with sealed cells filled at different 3He gas pressures (1.33 to 267 mbar) were performed. The use of an annular shape for the laser beam increased by 25% the achievable nuclear polarization equilibrium value (Meq) at 32 and 67 mbar as compared to a Gaussian beam shape. Meq values of 66.4% and 31% were obtained at 32 and 267 mbar, respectively, and the magnetization production rate was increased by a factor of 10 compared to the best results obtained under standard conditions. To study the reproducibility of the method in a polarizing system, the same experiments were performed with small cells connected to a gas handling system. Despite careful cleaning procedure, the purity of the 3He gas could not be matched to that of the sealed cells. Consequently, the polarization build-up times were approximately 3 times longer in the 20–30 mbar range of pressure than those obtained for the 32 mbar sealed cell. However, reasonable Meq values of 40%–60% were achieved in a 90 ml open cell. Based on these findings, a novel compact polarizing system was designed and built. Its typical output is a 3He gas flow rate of 15 sccm with a polarization of 33%. In-vivo lung MRI ventilation images (Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) of approximately 55 for a voxel size of 50 mm × 3 mm × 3 mm) were acquired to demonstrate the polarizer's application.

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