Smaller, cheaper MRI machines: GE Global Research gets federal funds to develop improved model

Jan. 28--NISKAYUNA -- Researchers at GE Global Research in Niskayuna have been awarded nearly $3.3 million from the federal government to help develop a smaller, and cheaper, MRI machine.

The research is expected to allow MRI machines to be installed in more hospitals -- especially those in developing countries that don't have the infrastructure to house traditional MRI systems.

The National Institutes of Health awarded GE Global Research a four-year, $3.27 million grant to develop a new type of magnet used in MRI machines that wouldn't require cryogenic liquids to keep the magnets cold. The magnets would also be smaller and require less wire, which would further reduce the cost of the systems.

"The system gets lighter," said Minfeng Xu, the principal investigator on the project, which is being run through GE's electromagnetics and superconductivity lab.

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. Eliminating the use of cryogenic liquids would be a key advance for GE, which makes MRI systems. The magnet in an MRI needs to be kept at minus 269 degrees Celsius, as cold as outer space, and typically liquid helium is used to keep the magnets cool.

Because helium is extremely rare and expensive and cryogenic systems have specific technology requirements, eliminating the use of cryogenic liquids would allow MRI systems to be installed in remote areas with less accompanying infrastructure. It is also more difficult to transport MRI systems to remote areas when they need cryogenic liquid.

"The whole idea is to create a more highly mobile, less costly MRI system platform that delivers the same high resolution and quality of imaging for patients," said Kathleen Amm, manager of the lab where the work is being done.

Neither Amm nor Xu would reveal which technologies they are using to eliminate the need for cryogenic liquids. They stressed that they are still in the very early stages of development.

MRI systems are used to look at soft tissue in the body, including the brain, other major organs and the cardiovascular system. GE estimates that the new magnet could be used to bring MRI systems to 10,000 new hospitals worldwide, reaching millions of patients that previously did not have access to the technology.


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