University of Illinois Unveils World’s Most Powerful MRI
The University of Illinois at Chicago has introduced the world’s most powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine for human studies, capable of imaging not just the anatomy but the metabolism within the brain.
This advanced technology brings in a new age of metabolic imaging that will help researchers understand the workings of the human brain, detect diseases before their clinical signs appear, develop targeted drug therapies for illnesses like stroke and provide a better understanding of learning disabilities.
Central to the technology is a 9.4-tesla magnet, larger than any other human-sized magnet, built by GE Healthcare, a unit of General Electric Co. A tesla is a large measuring unit of magnetic strength.
“This technological leap forward is as revolutionary to the medical community as the transition from radio to television was for society,” said Dr. Keith Thulborn, director of the UIC Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, at the facility’s opening in early October. “GE’s magnet is introducing a whole new dimension to imaging by enabling researchers to better understand how the human brain thinks, learns, fights disease and responds to experimental therapies.”
An MRI machine maps internal structures of the body using magnetism, radio waves and a computer. A circular magnet surrounds the patient and creates a strong magnetic field that aligns atoms in the body. A pulse of radio waves then rearranges them, creating a signal that is passed to a computer, producing an image.
The current industry standard for MRI systems is 1.5 tesla, which limits researchers to imaging water molecules. As a result, only anatomical changes can be detected and monitored. By contrast, the 9.4-tesla magnet, which is three times more powerful than current state-of-the-art clinical MRI magnets and more than 100,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field, will enable UIC researchers to detect signals from sodium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen — the metabolic building blocks of brain function and human thought.
“Brain scanning is pushed to the limit with the current technology — we need the sensitivity of the 9.4-tesla magnet to go beyond anatomic imaging to metabolic imaging,” Thulborn said.
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