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GE's prototype miniature MR scanner is built for babies

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | January 25, 2017
European News MRI
A new 'miniature' MR machine now in development might make all the difference to a neonate fighting for life.

The scanner, located in the Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital in Sheffield, is still in the prototype stage. The 3-Tesla neonatal MR machine has been a joint effort between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Sheffield, GE Healthcare and the Wellcome Trust.

There are just two of the devices in the world and they have taken part in a two-year research project to test the practicality and benefits of MR scan for babies. The other has been tested at Boston Children's Hospital.
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The device is “about the size of a washing machine,” according to the BBC.

The present trial comes after nearly a dozen years of development by Paul Griffiths, professor of radiology at the University of Sheffield and honorary consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and Martyn Paley, professor of MR Physics at the University of Sheffield, according to The Telegraph.

The small scanner's greatest advantage is that it ensures the tiny patients are as close as possible to the experts in the NICU should their condition suddenly change.

Traditionally, MR machines are “huge, heavy objects which are sited in the basement or ground floor of hospitals, whereas maternity units are usually higher up, or in a completely different building, so it can mean a complicated journey to get a baby to and from the scanner," Griffiths said.

A complicated journey can be fraught with peril for these tiny newborns, he stressed.

“Babies, particularly with brain problems, are unstable – they can stop breathing or their blood pressure can change in an unpredictable way,” noted Griffiths.

“If that happens it is useful to have neonatal staff who are used to that situation in such close proximity, which will improve safety,” he said, adding that “the MR images themselves provide a more detailed image and can help provide a more accurate diagnosis.”

The advantages were clear to Susie Thoms, whose premature son Toby had a scan as part of the study. "Not having to leave the department was a massive advantage, because having to transfer elsewhere at what is already a difficult time, would be a lot of extra stress for Toby, myself and the teams involved,” she said.

Thanks to the smaller MR machine, neonates like Toby can be scanned with greater ease, not dissimilar to ultrasound, which is “cheap, portable and convenient, but the position of the fontanelles means there are some parts of the brain which cannot be viewed,” Griffiths told the BBC, pointing out that "MR is able to show all of the brain and the surrounding anatomy, making the images easier to explain to parents.”

From a diagnostic point of view, he also noted, “MR is able to show a wider range of brain abnormalities, in particular those which result from a lack of oxygen or blood supply."

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