ANU team join quest for MRI revolution

Thursday 2 February 2017

ANU physicists are set to play a prominent role in a revolution in medical scanning.

A team from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering has been invited to join a major European consortium that is aiming to improve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with simple cheap materials made of tiny metallic structures, called metamaterials.

ANU researchers have already shown that a sheet of metamaterials placed under a patient increased the quality and efficiency of the scanning process in an MRI machine.

ANU joins seven other universities and two companies from across Europe in the consortium, who hope to build on their early results to make extremely high quality MRI much safer, cheaper and more accessible.

"Our goal is to work out how to tune metamaterials so that they work for many different types of MRI machines – different makes and different strength scanners," said Alexey Slobozhanyuk, PhD student in the Nonlinear Physics Centre, in the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

Magnetic resonance imaging is currently one of the most sensitive diagnostic tools and is effective for imaging cancers, spinal areas or brain function. It uses magnetic fields, which are far less damaging to the patient than X-rays and CT scans.

However full testing has not been completed of the health impacts of the coming generation of MRI scanners, which use extremely high magnetic fields, around seven tesla, 100,000 times that of the Earth’s magnetic field.

The consortium, which has been named M-CUBE (MetaMaterials antenna for ultra-high field MRI), believes metamaterials could double the quality of images from existing scanners and decrease the time needed for a scan by a factor of ten.

"Shorter scans will make a big difference to patients. Claustrophobia is a real issue during long scans, for example for frail or elderly patients," said Professor Yuri Kivshar, leader of the ANU Research School of Physics team.

"Ideally all they would need to do is to put on a vest made of metamaterials, or a helmet for brain scans."

Ultra-high-field MRI scanners can heat the tissue of patients due to an increase of the radiofrequency energy absorption.

The team found the metamaterials, artificial materials with subwavelength scale periodic structures, suppressed the electric field, which is responsible for tissue heating. They did so by spatially redistributing the electromagnetic near fields, which doubled the signal-to-noise ratio.

M-CUBE is funded for four years by the Future and Emerging Technologies-OPEN-1-2016-2017 call, which is extremely competitive, funding only 4% of applicants.  The project is coordinated by Aix Marseille University (AMU) and led by the Fresnel Institute and the Center for Magnetic Resonance in Biology and Medicine (CRMBM). 

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