NIST Pioneers Breakthroughs to Elevate Portable MRI Technology and Expand Medical Capabilities

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has been a cornerstone of medical diagnostics, illuminating soft tissue features and aiding in disease detection. However, the high costs and bulky nature of conventional MRI machines have confined their use to large medical facilities. In response, a new era of portable and affordable MRI systems with lower-strength magnetic fields is on the horizon, promising to revolutionize healthcare delivery. To unlock the full potential of these innovations, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has spearheaded research to advance low-field MRI technology and validate its efficacy.

Traditional MRI machines employ powerful magnets that limit their accessibility. Emerging portable MRI versions with lower-strength magnetic fields offer a solution to this challenge. These portable models can be deployed in ambulances, remote locations, and underserved communities. NIST’s researchers are focused on comprehending the connection between low-field MRI images and the corresponding tissue properties they represent.

NIST electrical engineer Kalina Jordanova highlighted the essence of their research, emphasizing that images obtained from low-field MRI systems exhibit distinct contrasts, necessitating an understanding of how human tissue appears under these lower field strengths.

In a pivotal development, NIST researchers conducted brain tissue measurements using a commercially available portable MRI machine. This imaging process was undertaken on both male and female volunteers, providing insights into the tissue’s composition at a magnetic field strength 20 times weaker than conventional MRI scanners. By investigating gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid, each responding differently to the low magnetic field, the researchers gained unique data that facilitated quantitative image construction. This in-depth understanding empowers the creation of novel image collection methods, as explained by NIST biomedical engineer Katy Keenan.

Moreover, NIST researchers have explored the use of contrast agents to enhance image quality in low-field MRI scans. In a groundbreaking revelation, they found that iron oxide nanoparticles surpassed traditional gadolinium-based contrast agents in sensitivity at low magnetic field strengths. Notably, these nanoparticles offer the advantage of breaking down within the body, unlike gadolinium, which could accumulate and potentially distort future MRI scans.

By collaborating with institutions such as the University of Florence in Italy and Hyperfine Inc. in Connecticut, NIST has propelled its findings to the forefront of scientific knowledge. The results of their research, published in journals like Magnetic Resonance Materials in Physics, Biology and Medicine and Scientific Reports, signify a remarkable step toward a future where portable and cost-effective MRI systems will expand healthcare accessibility and revolutionize medical capabilities.