Creating a less expensive and more accessible whole-body MRI scanner



Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful medical imaging technique, but it tends to be prohibitively expensive and is inaccessible in many parts of the world. This was exacerbated by MRI researchers and manufacturers who have driven the market toward more expensive, high-power magnetic field systems over the past 30 years. Typically, MRI systems cost $1M per Tesla (T) in magnetic field strength, and clinical MRI systems operate at strengths between 1.5T and 7T. Low-field MRI systems that use weaker magnetic fields have been excluded from most hardware and software developments made in the last three decades, meaning that lower-cost systems have been worse at diagnostic imaging by design. Additionally, most clinical MRI systems are optimized for producing images of the brain, muscles, and skeleton, but poorly suited for lung imaging and for conducting MRI-guided medical procedures.


IRP researchers led by Adrienne Campbell-Washburn, Ph.D., developed a prototype MRI system that combines state-of-the-art hardware and computational algorithms with a lower-strength magnetic field (0.55T). The IRP-designed, low-field MRI system trades a costly, high-strength magnetic field for a less costly, weaker magnetic field complemented by inexpensive algorithms, software, and computing systems. The system demonstrates that a less powerful magnetic field, when combined with advanced data analysis processes, is able to perform diagnostic imaging equivalent to current clinical MRI systems. Furthermore, the system enables applications that are currently impossible using conventional MRI scanners, including producing images of the lungs and performing MRI-guided medical interventions. Finally, this MRI system is capable of ‘whole body’ imaging, giving it the versatility needed for its widespread adoption.


The prototype MRI system was developed as a Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) collaboration between NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and Siemens Healthcare. Since its creation, Siemens Healthcare has commercialized two contemporary low-field MRI systems and marketed or sold them worldwide as a low-cost MRI system with high-quality imaging. This lower-cost system will improve access to a critical healthcare technology, especially in rural areas and less economically well-off countries. What’s more, the system requires less infrastructure to install and maintain, ensuring close proximity to patient care locations for point-of-care imaging or for disease screening in outpatient settings.


Campbell-Washburn AE, Ramasawmy R, Restivo MC, Bhattacharya I, Basar B, Herzka DA, Hansen MS, Rogers T, Bandettini WP, McGuirt DR, Mancini C, Grodzki D, Schneider R, Majeed W, Bhat H, Xue H, Moss J, Malayeri AA, Jones EC, Koretsky AP, Kellman P, Chen MY, Lederman RJ, Balaban RS. (2019). Opportunities in Interventional and Diagnostic Imaging by Using High-Performance Low-Field-Strength MRI. Radiology. Nov;293(2):384-393. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2019190452.

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 24, 2023