Researchers and physicians hope that the 9.4 Telsa will start a new era of brain imaging, in which they will be able to observe metabolic processes and improve health care. Oncologists, for example, may be able to tailor radiation therapy based on a brain tumor's real-time response to treatment. Currently, physicians often must wait for weeks before they see whether a brain tumor is shrinking in response to therapy. With the new machine, it will be possible to see if individual cells within the tumor are dying long before the tumor has begun to shrink.
While current MRI machines visualize water molecules to track biochemical processes, the 9.4 Tesla visualizes the sodium ions molecules instead. In this way, it enables researchers to directly follow one of the most important energy-consuming processes in the brain’s cellular machinery. Furthermore, MRI systems are based on magnetic principles; The 9.4 Tesla’s magnetic field is more than three times stronger than the magnetic field of regular clinical MRI units. Dr. Keith Thulborn, Director of UIC's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, explains that the powerful magnet allows visualization of different types of molecules; thus, it enables physicians to view activity in the brain in a completely different dimension.
The strength of magnetic resonance scanners is limited in order to protect patients' health. In this safety trial, 25 healthy volunteers were exposed, in random order, to the 9.4 Tesla scanner and to a mock scanner, as a test group. The differences in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rates, and other vital signs when volunteers were exposed to the powerful magnetic field were minimal.
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 passed once the volunteers were stationary within the magnetic field. The scientists’ conclusion is that exposure to the machine's static magnetic field does not present a safety concern. With the FDA-required safety trials completed, UIC researchers will now begin putting the 9.4 Tesla to use.
TFOT has recently reported on a new MRI device, which enables scientists to perform ultra-low-intensity MRI scans of a human brain. Other related stories covered by TFOT include a robotic surgeon that uses MRI to operate, and a new research which promises a way for killing of cancer cells using an electric field.
More information on the 9.4 Tesla can be found in the UIC's press release.