Largest MRI goes online, financed by $8M grant from NIH

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A powerful magnetic resonance imaging device recently installed at the University of Minnesota has been used to conduct a whole-body scan, believed to be one of the first such scans in the world.

The study, performed at the university’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, was conducted with a magnet capable of generating 10.5 Tesla, which is about 10 times more powerful than that provided by a standard MRI, according to U of M spokesman Kevin Coss.

The university plans to use the high-powered MRI for biomedical research, which will also most “likely involve clinically relevant research,” says Kamil Ugurbil, director of CMRR and professor of medicine, neurosciences and radiology at U of M’s medical school.

The center hopes to use the high-powered imaging to make inroads into the treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases, something MRIs have fallen short of doing to date, Ugurbil says. CMRR is aiming, particularly, in using the magnet to significantly advance the brain research being conducted by the Human Connectome Project, of which CMRR is a part.

According to Ugurbil, CMRR’s initial research will focus on developing technologies to “overcome the numerous challenges such a high magnetic field poses and to optimally exploit the potential gains from high magnetic fields.” U of M’s research with the new magnet will be funded by a five-year, $9.7 million NIH Brain Initiative grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Ugurbil says the goal all along has been to develop magnetic fields that can accommodate objects as large as the human body. “Such magnets, when they are first developed, tended to be also very large and heavy, but over time new technologies come in to reduce their size,” he said.

The Tesla 10.5 has stainless steel for structural components and the magnetic field is generated by superconducting wires embedded in liquid helium cooled to temperatures around 2 degree Kelvin (-456 degree Fahrenheit), Ugurbil says. CMRR conceived of the project in 2008 and had the Tesla 10.5 built in England and shipped to the U.S. under an $8 million NIH grant.

“Now there is a project in the national labs of the Atomic Energy Center (CEA) in France to achieve 11.7 Tesla for human imaging, similarly at NIH (USA) where they are waiting for an 11.7 Tesla magnet as well. Other initiatives exist to push to even higher magnetic fields, though they are not yet funded,” he adds.

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