After receiving one of only six prototypes of the Siemens Healthineers Free.Max, the Michigan Medicine Department of Radiology installed the low-field MRI scanner. Siemens recently received FDA approval for clinical imaging with these systems.
The scanner has a reduced field strength of .55 Tesla, which lowers cost and could improve image quality in certain settings, such as implanted hardware or lung imaging. There may be safety benefits for patients with pacemakers and defibrillators; these possibilities need to be explored.
“This is a new technology with a field strength that has not been used clinically before,” said Vikas Gulani, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Radiology at Michigan Medicine. “We will be exploring its use as a research tool, imaging both objects and patients to see how we might use it more clinically in the future. We are in the process of updating our prototype at U-M to match this configuration, so that we can move from research only to clinical scanning.”
The Germany-based health technology company built the machine with an 80-centimeter bore, which is more than 30% larger than a typical scanner. It is designed to have a feeling of an open scanner without losing the image quality, Gulani said.
“In the cases of certain patient populations, larger patients may not fit in the bore of the magnet as it is designed,” he said. “Traditionally, the magnet bore is 60 or 70 centimeters. So, this automatically makes it possible to do imaging on some patients who may be larger. In addition, in combining lower cost, greater flexibility in patient compatibility and fewer artifacts, we may be able to provide greater access to populations like those in emergency departments or ICUs. These are populations that we have trouble imaging. Pediatric populations are another group we may have some difficulty imaging, occasionally.”
The scanner provides a step toward low-cost imaging that could bridge the gap of global MRI access. Only 10 percent of the world currently has access to MRI technology, Gulani said. His team is working on further developments to reach a much greater fraction of the world.
Radiology will pilot the use of the low-field scanners in partnership with the Department of Emergency Medicine. The second phase of its use will involve planned collaboration with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at a satellite, low-resource site outside of Delhi in 2022.
“One of the major goals stemming from the acquisition of this machine is to construct research projects that might start to answer the clinical needs in part of the country and world with little access,” Gulani said. “We need to be able to provide this technology to everyone. Just because the country or place struggles with some very basic medical problems does not mean that those same populations don’t have a right to more advanced technologies.”