With a family history of breast cancer, Marcie Jacobs decided in June 2001 that an MRI screening was her best preventive option.
As is common with MRIs, Jacobs was injected beforehand with a contrast agent, a drug that helps sharpen the resulting images.
But after a few of these treatments, she began noticing some strange cognitive effects.
Jacobs began missing meetings. Over the next several years she had additional MRIs. The math skills that were crucial to her job as finance manager started deteriorating, she said.
This month, two prominent experts in the radiology community joined in the concern, calling for more research into the possible health risks after three recent studies found that gadolinium, a potentially toxic metal, wound up in the brain tissue of MRI patients who used two different contrast agents.
See also: FDA Issues Gadolinium MRI Contrast Alert
Nine gadolinium-based contrast agents are sold in the United States.
The two in question,
- Omniscan, made by GE Healthcare, and
- Magnevist, manufactured by Bayer HealthCare,
once dominated the contrast agent market
contrast agents like Omniscan had been on the market for years when, in 2006, they were linked to a crippling, sometimes fatal condition called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, or NSF.
The new studies cited by Kanal and Tweedle have set off alarms because they show that even patients with healthy kidneys are retaining gadolinium from Omniscan and Magnevist.
Estimates are that about one-third of the 20 million MRIs in the United States each year use one of the nine contrast agents.
Doctors now routinely screen MRI patients for kidney problems before injecting them with contrast agents, and scientists believe that NSF has essentially disappeared
Given that the alternatives are “at least as efficacious” as the other two, he asked, “Why are some still prescribing the agents that do accumulate in the brain over the other options?”
As her symptoms worsened, Jacobs said she underwent a series of tests that found accumulated traces of gadolinium in her breast, thigh, liver and brain.
Doctors were puzzled because she had no history of kidney disease and did not fit into the identified at-risk group.
Jacobs said the new studies “confirm that the linear gadolinium-based contrasting agents such as GE’s product Omniscan and Bayer’s product Magnevist are being retained at much higher levels than radiologists and the FDA have acknowledged.”
GE and Bayer have confidentially settled hundreds of lawsuits – many involving deaths – while denying liability for their contrast agents.