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With the latest cutting-edge capabilities, MR enters new diagnostic frontiers

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | October 17, 2016
From the October 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

In February, the Mayo Clinic announced that the MR would be used in research involving 300 initial head scans. They hope to improve the diagnosis and treatment of focal diseases such as gliomas, meningiomas, stroke, aneurysm and congenital anomalies as well as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psychiatric disorders, leukoaraiosis and hydrocephalus. Physicians at the Mayo Clinic who focus on pediatrics, musculoskeletal, deep-brain stimulation and Alzheimer’s disease are hoping that the compact MR can bring insight into their fields as well.

Helium-free 3T MR
Mitsubishi Electric, Kyoto University and Tohoku University in Japan have developed a helium-free 3T MR that uses a “high-temperature superconducting” (HTS) coil. HTS is a relative term. It means that the MR doesn’t need to be cooled to below 30K (-405.6° F) to operate. “Ordinary” superconducting MR magnets must be cooled below 30K to lose their electrical resistance and become superconducting. High-temperature superconductivity has been observed at temperatures as high as 138K (-211.2° F), but the Mitsubishi MR operates nearer the 30K level. HTS systems, therefore, still need to be very cold, but do not need liquid helium to work efficiently. Liquid nitrogen is sometimes used.

“In order to realize [the HTS effect] without helium cooling during operation of the magnet, we make use of a conduction cooling system [direct contact cooling] using a small refrigerator system and high-temperature superconducting wires, which enables us to realize a helium-free MRI system,” says Dr. Kazuo Yamamoto, senior manager of the magnetic application and the particle accelerator group at Mitsubishi.

Researchers at the universities have already used the system to successfully image a 25-millimeter mouse fetus. The developers have plans to increase the size of the system by one-half the size of a full-size MR by 2020. Yamamoto believes that helium-free MR systems will be launched in the next 10 years and that one day MR imaging will no longer require helium. His team is currently working toward commercializing the helium-free MR.

“The helium supply crisis five years ago, and a steep rise in costs, motivated us to realize a helium-free MRI,” says Yamamoto. “By providing helium-free superconducting magnets in MRIs, we want to realize MRI systems that do not depend on helium and contribute positively to society.”

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