Spanish researchers create portable MRI scanner

A research group from the Institute of Instrumentation for Molecular Imaging (i3M), a joint centre of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), has developed the first portable magnetic resonance imaging technology, or MRI scanner.

“Our magnetic resonance imaging device has been shown to work in a multitude of situations that are absolutely excluded for the standard magnetic resonance that we all know,” says Dr. Joseba Alonso, a CSIC researcher and one of the project leaders.

This device is characterised mainly by its low weight, only 200 kilos, compared to the thousands of current devices, and its low cost, going from a million euro to about 50,000. This is possible by going from a superconducting magnet to one based on an array of about 5,000 small permanent magnets, similar to those found in conventional fridges.

“A consequence of this is that we sacrifice magnetic field intensity, and therefore image quality, but this can be partly recovered with efficient image collection techniques, and post-processing based on artificial intelligence. In any case, we take advantage of the fact that there is a wide variety of diagnoses that do not require the exquisite detail that conventional clinical scanners provide us”, explains Dr. Alonso.

Thanks to the characteristics of this device, the i3M has made magnetic resonance compatible in situations and places where it was previously impossible, such as homes, residences, outpatient clinics, small clinics, medical vehicles, ambulances, or even for helicopter transport.

So far, the areas of the body in which portable magnetic resonance has been used have been the extremities, but the CSIC researcher anticipates that in the near future they will be able to take brain images. “In this way, the system should be capable of providing value in the fields of orthopaedics, physiotherapy, rheumatology, neurology. Also, we are working on full-body designs that will be heavier and less portable, but we still expect to drastically reduce the price and size of current scanners,” he concludes.