Car-Portable MRI Scanner Allows for On-Site Diagnoses Without a Hospital Trip

Shrunken down to fit in a car, this wrist MRI scanner has proven capable of producing images with clinical value for early diagnoses.

A team of scientists at the University of Tsukuba have taken the technology behind magneto-resonance imaging (MRI) and successfully miniaturized it, creating a portable MRI that can be packed into the back of a car and driven anywhere for on-site diagnoses.

The common whole-body MRI scanners found in hospitals are incredibly useful diagnostic tools, creating a detailed image of the inner workings of the human body using safe magnetic fields and radio waves. They're also very much not portable, filling a large chunk of a room — which is where the researcher's vehicle-sized version comes in.

"Because this system is portable, athletes can be quickly screened at a remote location, such as their practice field," says Yasuhiko Terada, professor at the University of Tsukuba. "Thus, this device can eliminate the need for players to go to a hospital for diagnosis."

The miniature MRI Terada and colleagues built is, admittedly, considerably more focused in its diagnostic capabilities than a full-size whole-body version: The team's probe was designed specifically for imaging the human wrist. Power, meanwhile, comes from an off-the-shelf generator, with everything loading neatly into the back of a vehicle for transit and field use.

The team tested its creation on-site at a tennis school, imaging the wrists of players aged between eight and 18. Several of the subjects were found to have previously-undiagnosed cartilage damage, validating the device's clinical use for early diagnoses — though six of the tests, out of 34, resulted in images of too low a quality for diagnostic purposes, owing to motion artifacts, low signal to noise ratios, and/or poor positioning.

The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medical Sciences.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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