Extending the reach of MRI with new portable brain imaging scanner

Extending the reach of MRI with new portable brain imaging scanner
© iStock/Trifonov_Evgeniy

A new low-cost, compact, portable, and low-power brain imaging scanner has been developed.

The new device, which has been developed by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), can be mounted in an ambulance, wheeled into a patient’s room, or put in small clinics or doctors’ offices, and be used in remote locations.

The device will provide a new option for brain scanning, as when assessing head trauma, detecting brain cancer, and performing numerous other tests. Currently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is most commonly used, however, these scanners are costly, require special infrastructure, and cannot be moved around.

This new “head only” MRI scanner is described in a study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

A portable device

The researchers have designed and tested the portable prototype scanner that can be plugged into a standard outlet and is much quieter than traditional MRI scanners. The magnet is about the size of a laundry basket, and the total weight of the full scanner system, including the magnet, coils, amplifiers, console, and cart is 230kg, or about 500 pounds. It can also be pushed by a single person for transport.

When tested in three healthy adult volunteers, the scanner generated 3D brain images, typically within 10 minutes.

Lead author, Clarissa Zimmerman Cooley, PhD, an investigator in Radiology at MGH’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, said: “Although MRI is the premier imaging modality for brain imaging, the purchase and installation of traditional high-field MRI scanners can be prohibitively expensive and difficult. Even in a hospital where MRI scanners are available, there are cases where it may be too difficult or dangerous to transport the patient to scanner suites. The work in this paper was really motivated by this need for more accessible MRI. This type of technology could really extend the reach of MRI.

“With some further development, this could allow truly point-of-care, bedside brain imaging for patients or scanning in remote locations, where MRI has traditionally been unavailable.”

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