In their 40 year history, MRI machines have done a lot to push modern medicine into the 21st century. Before 1977, few people had dreamed of getting such a detailed picture of the interior of the human body. Using magnetic resonance signals to observe the difference between cancerous and healthy cells, for example, has undoubtedly saved millions of lives in the years since. Advanced MRI imaging is a necessity in hospitals all over the world and it's still progressing today. The first MRI machines took hours to provide useful diagnostic images. Now, we use them for everything from radiation therapy to focused ultrasounds. Today, we're going to discuss the ways that MRI scanners are pushing the limits of imaging.

Advanced MRI Imaging With Bigger and Better Magnets

MRI machines run on high-powered magnets that detect (magnetize) the magnetic moments in your nuclei.B A lot happens in between this process and producing the diagnostic images that you see at the end, but it starts with the magnet. Right now, most MRI machines have field strengths of between 1.5T and 3T (T for Tesla). As MRI research continues and the strength of the magnets increases, we're able to get better and better MRI resolution. The 10.5 T machine at the University of Minnesota's Center for Magnetic Research is one of the most powerful. It weighs 3-times more than a commercial aircraft and costs $14 million, but its magnet is 50% more powerful than anything approved for use today. At the frontiers of MRI research and technology, the diagnostic possibilities are endless.

Our Diagnostic Possibilities

MRI technology hasn't changed much since the 70s. The ability to increase the electromagnetic field has given us a much more detailed picture of what goes on inside the body. Modern 7 T scanners are able to look at brain tissue and connectivity in a way that was only accessible to surgeons before. For example, they've been crucial for mapping neuron activity. 7 T scans are also helpful for deep-brain stimulation, which is a process crucial in treating Parkinson's Disease. In addition, the scans have given us more information about multiple sclerosis, how it develops, and the earliest symptoms. One of the real high points of the 7 T scanners is their ability to either get more detailed scans or a faster scan, depending on need. What used to be a long, uncomfortable process for patients, can now be done in a fraction of the time. Things that used to take hours or minutes now only take minutes or seconds.

The Future of Essential Imaging

MRI technology is still relatively young in the grand scheme of things. When you look at the timeline, 3 T scanners only came about in 2002. As 7T scanners become more widely available, MRI research will continue to look towards the future of diagnostic imaging. There is one scanner, located at the US National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, that is 21 T; the most powerful in the world. It's 10.5 cm interior space is only big enough for small animals. However, it's able to detect the sodium concentration in rat brain tumors, which may indicate how resistant it would be to chemo.B Whether magnetic technology this powerful can be safely used on humans remains to be seen, but the future of MRI technology is bright.