The world’s most powerful medical magnetic resonance imaging machine, the 9.4 Tesla at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has successfully completed safety trials and may soon offer physicians a real-time view of biological processes in the human brain.
The safety study was published in the November Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging in an issue focused on MRI safety.
The 9.4T magnet has a field strength more than three times that of state-of-the-art clinical units. UIC’s 9.4T is the first such device large enough to scan the head and visualize the human brain.
“Because the more powerful magnet allows us to visualize different types of molecules, we are seeing activity in the brain along a completely different dimension,” said Dr. Keith Thulborn, director of UIC’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research.
In this safety trial, 25 healthy volunteers — 12 men and 13 women — were exposed, in random order, to the 9.4T scanner, in which they were exposed to a static magnetic field and to sodium imaging, and to a mock scanner with no magnetic field. An audio recording simulated the sound of a real scanner.
Vital signs and cognitive ability were measured in all volunteers before and after the sodium imaging at 9.4T and the mock scanning. There were no significant changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate or other vital signs when volunteers were exposed to either the magnetic field or the imaging. There were no significant differences in the cognitive testing of volunteers following mock vs. real scanning.
The most frequently reported discomfort was lightheadedness or vertigo when being moved into the magnetic field. A few subjects reported a metallic taste, nausea, or a visual effect of seeing sparks. The sensations went away once they were stationary in the magnetic field.
“This initial evaluation of safety is only the first step towards realizing metabolic imaging of the human brain,” Thulborn said. “We are now moving towards patient studies of sodium imaging and towards safety testing for oxygen and phosphorus imaging in humans.
“These early metabolic signatures of cellular health have great potential to advance detection and monitoring of diseases in the earliest stages, when treatment can produce the greatest benefit.”
Research specialist Ian Atkinson, data analyst Holly Burd, postdoctoral research associate Laura Renteria, and Neil Pliskin, director of the neurobehavior program and neuropsychology service at UIC, made major contributions to the study.
For more information about UIC, visit www.uic.edu