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Researchers design transportable MRI machine

"Unlike mobile MRIs, the MRI Ambulance is designed to be used in emergency situations alongside a standard ambulance," student Nicole Marshall said.

By Brooks Hays

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, April 22 (UPI) -- Sometimes you just need an MRI on the run. It's not a frequent problem, but for emergency medical care technicians trying to diagnose a stroke as quickly as possible, a mobile MRI scanner could mean the difference between life or death.

That was the impetus for researchers at New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington, who recently designed a transportable MRI machine. The machine isn't yet real, only a design -- existing as a series of research papers and CAD drawings.

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Their newly designed machine isn't the kind of thing that fits nicely in the back of a sedan. But it's small enough to fit snugly in the back of a flatbed truck. The plans for the machine consists of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner placed inside a refrigerated shipping container.

"Unlike mobile MRIs, the MRI Ambulance is designed to be used in emergency situations alongside a standard ambulance, providing the ability for a patient who has had a stroke to be scanned en-route to the hospital," Nicole Marshall, a student who helped design the technology, explained in a press release. "It means the type of stroke is determined before the patient arrives at the hospital resulting in greater efficiency and better probability of the patient surviving and recovering."

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The machine is a collaboration between researchers and students from Victoria's Robinson Research Institute and Schools of Design and Architecture.

One of the main challenges of the design process was putting together a machine that was portable but still comfortable and functional for emergency caretakers and patients. The machine allows a stretcher to be wheeled directly up to the truck bed. Stretcher wheels lock into a loading track, allowing the patient to be rolled back into place and winched up into scanning position.

Instead of using cryogen, or liquid helium coolant, to cool the magnets inside the MRI scanner, researchers employed a specialized electrical refrigerator.

This greatly increases the suitability of the magnet for transportable applications," said Robert Slade, an MRI expert at the school's research institute.

After conferring with medical professionals to ensure their plans meet the needs of emergency technicians and patients, and account for the realities of emergency medical situations, researchers hope to team with a Chinese manufacturing company to produce a working prototype.

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