An MRI scanner equipped with a superconducting magnet strong enough to lift a 60-metric-ton battle tank will offer unprecedented images of the human brain when it comes on line a little more than a year from now, say its builders.
The imager’s superconducting electromagnet is designed to produce a field of 11.75 teslas, making it the world’s most powerful whole-body scanner.
Most standard hospital MRIs produce 1.5 or 3 T. A few institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago and Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, have recently installed human scanners that can reach 9.4 T. Superconducting magnets used in the Large Hadron Collider, which last year was used in the discovery of the Higgs boson, produce a field of 8.4 T.
The development of the scanner, known as INUMAC (for Imaging of Neuro disease Using high-field MR And Contrastophores), has been in progress since 2006 and is expected to cost €200 million, or about US $270 million. The project reached a key milestone this summer with delivery of more than 200 kilometers of superconducting cable, which is now being wound into coils that will produce the scanner’s magnetic field.
“We’re pretty proud of having met all the requirements, plus given them a little extra,” says Hem Kanithi, vice president of business development at Luvata, in Waterbury, Conn., which built the superconductor.
Standard hospital scanners have a spatial resolution of about 1 millimeter, covering about 10 000 neurons, and a time resolution of about a second. The INUMAC will be able to image an area of about 0.1 mm, or 1000 neurons, and see changes occurring as fast as one-tenth of a second, according to Pierre Védrine, director of the project at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, in Paris.
With this type of resolution, MRIs could detect early indications of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and perhaps measure the effects of any methods developed to treat those illnesses. It would also allow much more precise functional imaging of the brain at work than is currently available. “You cannot really discriminate today what is happening inside your brain at the level of a few hundred neurons,” Védrine says.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald