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New compact MRI scanner designed for head, small extremities

The prototype is said to be more comfortable for patients while occupying less space and requiring fewer resources than full-size systems.

By
Stephen Feller
Mayo Clinic and General Electric's new compact 3T MRI scanner during installation at the Clinic's Rochester, Minn., campus in February 2016. Photo by Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic and General Electric's new compact 3T MRI scanner during installation at the Clinic's Rochester, Minn., campus in February 2016. Photo by Mayo Clinic

ROCHESTER, Minn., June 24 (UPI) -- A smaller magnetic resonance imaging machine has long been the goal of the medical industry in an effort to reduce cost and space, as well as to make scans more comfortable for patients who are uncomfortable laying inside a machine during imaging.

The Mayo Clinic and General Electric will unveil a new compact 3T MRI scanner on June 28 at the Clinic's Rochester campus, where a prototype of the device has been installed for trial use after more than eight years of development.

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The investigational research device is one-third the size of a conventional MRI system, uses a fraction of the liquid helium full-size systems require and uses far less electricity, according to a press release.

"The smaller design actually permits increased scanner performance, because both the electrical power requirements and physiological limitations imposed by a whole-body MRI scanner are greatly reduced," Dr. Matt Bernstein, a medical physicist in the department of radiology at Mayo Clinic, said in a press release.

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MRI machines use large, superconducting magnets which must be kept cold. Full-size MRI scanners use about 2,000 liters of liquid helium to stay cool, while the compact scanner needs about 12 liters. This allowed for an easier, cheaper, faster installation of the new scanner -- which is one-third the weight of a traditional machine and takes up about one-third of the space.

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The scanner is designed for imaging the head -- which the Clinic said makes up about half the scans MRIs are used for -- but is also expected to be used for wrists, feet, knees and even infants, because the prototype does not require a person's whole body to be inside the machine for a scan.

Researchers and doctors at Mayo Clinic plan to test the machine on a range of conditions, but will first complete research with 300 head scans to test calibration, image quality and set a baseline for what they expect.

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Volunteer patients with cancer, stroke, aneurysm, Alzheimer's disease and psychiatric disorders, among other conditions, will be in the first group to experience the smaller scanner.

"We are incredibly lucky for the generosity of our patients, that they are willing to have additional testing to help others in the future," Dr. John Huston, a neuroradiologist at Mayo Clinic, said in a press release. "Many times, if you have a long-term problem, say, multiple sclerosis, it could be that the work that we do ends up helping, and they benefit. But in general, a lot of what we're going to do with this group of patients, it will not help them directly. Instead, it is helping to move science forward, rather than improve or impact their individual care."

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