Scientists are welcoming a new MRI machine at the National MagLab that provides the best spatial resolution available for human imaging, making it a powerful tool for nationwide, multi-site health research.
Manufactured by Siemens, the state-of-the-art, whole-body scanner is powered by a 3-tesla magnet (tesla is a unit of magnetic field strength). But it's not the machine’s main magnetic field — on a par with many hospital MRIs — that makes the instrument special. Rather, the unit features the most powerful gradient magnet fields available, which help generate very sharp images of very tiny anatomical structures.
“Gradients provide the high spatial resolution in MRI, and with the new system we get the localization we need for small structures,” said Joanna Long, director of the MagLab's Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy (AMRIS) facility at the University of Florida, where the new instrument is located.
For anyone who has been inside an MRI machine, the gradient magnetic fields are responsible for that unpleasant racket you hear; technicians trigger them to target different areas of the body. But they also help generate more precise images – in this case, around a millimeter in resolution, allowing scientists to see bundles of neurons inside the brain. (Learn more about how MRI machines work).
As one of a number of similar machines recently installed around the country, the new system will enable researchers working at AMRIS to participate in large-scale, multi-site health studies. For example, some AMRIS researchers are using the machine as part of a years-long study to track brain cognitive development in adolescents. Others will use it for research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disorders. Glenn Walter, an associate professor in physiology and functional genomics at the University of Florida, is using it to develop MRI techniques to assess how effective drugs are at treating muscular dystrophy, a less invasive approach than muscle biopsy.
By allowing MagLab users to participate in such longitudinal studies, the $3 million system will yield high research dividends. “It's a really good example of how the magnetic resonance research program at the MagLab can leverage something bigger,” Long said.
To celebrate a trio of recent upgrades, including the new MRI machine, added dynamic nuclear polarization capabilities, and a new console for the 11-tesla MRI/S system, AMRIS hosted a reception and symposium this week.
Text by Kristen Coyne; Image courtesy of AMRIS.