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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Devices


Definition & Background
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology is a medical imaging technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to visualize the inside of the body. An MRI device is a medical imaging device that makes use of this technology. In 2003, Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging”. MRI technology can rightly be described as one of the most revolutionary and significant technologies of the 20th century.

The value of the global MRI market stood at 4.5 billion US dollars in 2010, and this is predicted to rise to 5.8 billion US dollars by 2015, representing a compound annual growth rate of 5.5%.

Outline of MRI Technology
MRI technology works by placing in the body in a magnet. The body is then irradiated with radio waves. This causes hydrogen atoms within the body to resonate, emitting radio waves as they do. The radio waves emitted will differ according to the nature of the tissue from which they originate. These differences are used to build up a cross-sectional image of the inside of the body. The stronger the magnetic force, the stronger the radio signals emitted from internal tissue, and therefore the clearer the image: greater magnetic force reveals much greater detail of our internal structures. This principle is at the core of MRI technology.

MRI devices make it possible to generate images of the body from multiple angles: from the front, side or even diagonally. This means it is possible to extract extensive three-dimensional information of the body, something that CT scanning is not capable of. Another advantage over CT scanning is that there is no associated risk of exposure to ionizing radiation, making it a safe technology.

Japan has stringent regulations in place regarding the use of MRI technology. As a result, MRI scanners with up to 3 Tesla (3T) have become common in clinical settings, although outstanding results have already been recorded for the 7T ultra-high-field MRI scanner, which is still in the research phase. The 7T ultra-high-field MRI scanner has been developed by the Imaging Systems Development Team of the Biophysics Group at the Molecular Imaging Center, National Institute of Radiological Sciences.

Commercial MRI Technology in Japan
Conventional MRI devices are super-conductive tunnel types, which require the patients to lie down inside a narrow tube. As a result, patients with claustrophobia and younger patients have found the experience of using an MRI device to be uncomfortable or frightening. Open-type MRI systems offer a solution in that they are, as the name suggests, open, meaning that the patient does not have to be ‘confined’ within the scanner, thereby helping to alleviate anxiety.

The noise emitted by an MRI scanner can be very loud. Where images of the head are to be taken, the patient has often been required to insert earplugs. In recent years, however, considerable improvements have been made here too.

( Hitachi Medical Corporation )