Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an essential technology in modern medicine. Although the basic technology and hardware designs have dramatically improved, most of the recent advances have been on the software and computing side, allowing faster and more accurate scans with greater detail. Other advances allow for simplified testing for cardiac scans, increased diagnostic range, and more real-time testing of everything from blood flow to other internal processes, and advanced cloud and super computing capabilities.
Besides being faster, scans have also become much safer. Even so, newer MRI technology has increased patient comfort, produced breathtakingly clear images, and dramatically cut down the time required to perform an MRI. Additionally, newer MRIs are less noisy, reducing the sounds to ambient background noise rather than loud clicks and whirring noises that some patients find uncomfortable. Open MRIs also offer a more open field to reduce any anxiety caused by feeling confined.
The last few years have seen significant advances in the field of MRI imaging. Recent developments in MRI are focused on addressing the challenges of MRI in a holistic way by delivering first time right imaging with superb patient experience.
MRI-conditional implant scans. Medical implant technology has grown increasingly sophisticated, but an implant traditionally complicates the MRI scanning procedure. Nowadays, however, spinal implants, pacemakers, and other devices are becoming MRI-conditional, which means they do not interfere with the scanning process within certain parameters. Recent MRI’s automated user interface model allows for scanning of patients with implants much more easily and quickly.
Increased magnetic flux. The market has witnessed the transformation of 3T imaging from niche to mainstream. Initially, buyers were not sure if it would be worth the investment. The initial expectation was that 3T would be great for neuroimaging, MR angiography, MR spectroscopy, and advanced fMRI and DTI applications. However, the technology has matured, 3T pulse sequences have been improved, motion correction has been introduced, and the range of applications has started to ramp up.
Reduced scan time. The time of scanning has been dramatically reduced, across various protocols, though focus has been directed mostly toward the highest-volume scans like spinal, brain, and knee. In many cases, the common scan time has been reduced by half or more, with new technology allowing protocols to run simultaneously. Reduced scan time has benefits for patients and providers alike; shorter scans reduce patient anxiety and time in the scanner, as does noise reduction and new coil technology, while making MRI more available to patients. For providers, new systems allow an increase in patient throughput without comprising the quality of diagnoses, not to mention the financial and operational benefits.
Multiparametric MRI. Using mpMRI, multiple types of images can be obtained that tell physicians with high confidence whether the tumor is aggressive or not. These allow investigators to evaluate the chemical composition of the tumor without a biopsy.
MRI linear accelerator. The major technological advance in the field of radiotherapy is the merger of MRI and linear accelerators to create a hybrid machine – MRI Linac. The MRI Linac will push the technology of image guided radiotherapy to a completely new level. There will be no dose associated with MRI Linac pretreatment imaging.
MRI software. In recent years, some of the advances in MRI technology have been on the software side. This advancement enable faster contrast scans, simplified cardiac imaging workflows, and even the ability to perform MR scans. The software also delivers multiple, adjustable contrast images and quantitative data from a single 5–6 minute scan. The software reduces the need for several scans using different protocols, helping to reduce scan times and increases patient throughput.
Parallel imaging. The sensitivity encoding (SENSE) parallel imaging technique enables a reduction in scan times by a factor of two or more. Since its original implementation, continuous improvement of the technique has increased its performance and now the new advances allow greatly increased speed in the routine clinical setting.
Propeller imaging. Another important innovation is development of propeller imaging. Now many vendors have a propeller type of method. The method is based on constructing parts of images at a time, and running the scan so quickly that the second time one runs it they acquire another part of the exam, and third time another part of the exam. So it looks like one is acquiring a single picture – a full picture at one moment in time. And it reduces the amount of time exposure for each part of the image.
Between software and hardware advances, increased patient comfort and safety, faster processing time, and more accurate imaging, a lot of improvements have occurred in the last three decades of MRI usage. New patents are pending, so the technology that drives all forms of imaging studies and diagnostic testing keeps moving forward. Looking forward, owing to rapid technological advantage in capturing high-quality images, the MRI system market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7 percent from 2018 to 2024, according to Global Market Insights.
Companies are focusing on analyzing more applications for MRI systems. Also, companies are involved in development of MRI systems with improved patient comfort and less price. While often overlooked, the latest generation of work-horse MRI systems on the show floor today will also shape the next decade of use. Due to long life cycles for MRI systems, new systems today are the industry standard of the next decade for most users. Good news then, given the significant advances made. Imagine what will happen in the next three decades, much less the next century.