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Helium crisis averted?

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | October 07, 2013
International Day of Radiology 2012
From the October 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Frugal machines
In recent years, MRI manufacturers have responded to the helium shortage by developing zero boil-off magnet technology. At present, however, zero boil-off systems still require up to 2,000 liters of liquid helium .

Companies are now also looking into recycling and capturing wasted helium. In May this year, GE Healthcare broke ground on a new $17 million 5,000-square-foot helium liquefaction facility right next to GE’s MRI production plant in Florence, South Carolina. The facility will use proprietary techniques to capture waste helium from its MRI plant and liquefy the gas for future use.

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And in August, London-based firm Cryogenic claimed that it has developed a way to cool MRI magnets without the need for liquid helium. Its technique replaces liquid helium with a mechanical refrigeration unit that directly reduces the magnet’s temperature to near absolute zero in a closed, self-contained circuit that contains approximately half a liquid liter of helium gas, which remains cold, but doesn’t condense into liquid.

“In recent years major research laboratories have had to temporarily shut down multimillion-pound facilities because of these [helium] shortages and the problem will only get worse. Providing an alternative which doesn’t rely on a regular supply of helium is essential to addressing this problem,” said managing director of Cryogenic, Jeremy Good, in a statement.

The technique is already being used for smaller research instruments, but the incentive to develop a low-helium MRI scanner has never been higher. “Perhaps this type of technology will be the future for whole body MRI,” says Tom Freund, director of MRI service at Oxford Instruments.

Additionally, a brand new technology seeks to go a step further and eliminate MRI’s reliance on helium for good, if it proves to be viable. Time Medical, a Shanghai-based MRI company, is working on making superconducting coils that rely on higher-temperature liquid nitrogen — an inexpensive alternative that can be manufactured. Last year, the University of San Diego installed a liquid nitrogen system in its 1.5-Tesla machines to test out its efficacy.

As these helium-frugal technologies advance, the global health care market may eventually wean itself off helium. But the technologies will take time to become commercially available and widely adopted by the health care market, much of which still uses non-zero-boil off MRI machines.

Names in boldface are Premium Listings.
Wayne Scott, Independent Magnet Technology, FL
Brian Kibbe, Haskris, IL
Jeff Kirk, Majestic Medical Solution, LA
Brian Bruhschwein, Imaging Solutions, ND
Ron Schultz, Cool Pair Plus, IL
Kim Bernard, Dimplex Thermal Solutions, MI
Jeremy Fox, Direct Medical Imaging, MN
Thomas Freund, Oxford Instruments inc. Superconducting, NJ
Marc Fessler, Independence Cryogenic Engineering, NJ
Ted Huss, Medical Imaging Resources, CA
DOTmed Certified
Michaelle Serrano, Oxford Instruments Service, LLC, FL
DOTmed 100
Wes Solmos, Creative Foam Medical Systems, IN
DOTmed Certified
Paul Zahn, Shared Medical Services, Inc., WI
DOTmed Certified
DOTmed 100
Michael Profeta, Magnetic Resonance Technologies, OH
DOTmed Certified

Arvinder Bharaj, Eco Tech, Canada

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