Scanner upgrade advances MRI imaging capabilities at the University of Auckland

The Centre for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (CAMRI), based at the University of Auckland, has invested in a major upgrade to its imaging capabilities.Its newly installed Siemens MAGNETOM Vida Fit MRI scanner offers cutting-edge medical and research imaging as well as a more comfortable experience for patients and research subjects.

MRI scanner

“Since we’re the Centre for Advanced MRI, we want to make sure we’re offering the most advanced capabilities for 2022,” said CAMRI Director David Dubowitz. “The upgraded scanner does that.”

CAMRI offers MRI scanning both for research and clinical purposes. It is run by UniServices, the wholly owned research commercialisation and knowledge mobilisation company of the University of Auckland.

CAMRI has two MRI scanners of different magnetic strengths, plus a mock scanner to allow children and people who may be anxious about the procedure to get used to being in a scanner environment. The upgrade of the more powerful of the scanners has converted a Siemens Skyra scanner to a state-of-the-art 3T Vida Fit while retaining the stable core of the superconducting magnet at the heart of it.

The bed on which patients and research subjects lie and the coils used to collect data have inbuilt physiological monitoring capabilities.

“Often when we’re doing scans, we’re freeze-framing time so we can collect images when a heart is pumping or lungs are expanding,” said Catherine Morgan, CAMRI’s senior MRI physicist. “To do that, we monitor the person and use that information to time the scans. We typically use extra equipment to do this – we might even have to shave someone’s chest hair to stick electrodes on. The new inbuilt monitoring systems are less intrusive and more comfortable for the person.”

The bed has a motorised drive, which helps mobility-impaired people get on and off.

“It helps preserve dignity and minimises risk to staff because it reduces pushing and pulling to help people get on the table,” said Anna Lydon, charge MRI technologist for CAMRI.

The scanner also has options for running in quiet mode and with active noise cancelling equipment, making the patient experience more pleasant, since standard MRI scans are quite noisy. Research focused on auditory processing will also benefit from the new system, since there will be much less noise interference from the scan itself.

The state-of-the-art data collection capabilities are only part of the story.

“We’re getting powerful new computers, so there will be less delay between acquiring the data and having the images pop up,” said Morgan. “We can also make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, which can help speed up scans without compromising quality.”

The faster scanning time doesn’t simply mean more people can be scanned. Some researchers and clinicians might take the opportunity to perform additional scans of the same person, asking new research questions or improving diagnostics.

Faster scans also increase accessibility because, to give a couple of examples, people with shortness of breath don’t have to hold their breath as long and children don’t have to stay still – or be anaesthetised – as long.

“For children, it definitely makes things a lot quicker and easier to get scans done within their window of tolerance,” said Lydon.

In addition to upgrading the scanner, CAMRI has taken the opportunity to renovate, adding new lighting, wall coverings and artwork to the scanner room and mock scanner room. The artwork is by ӰAPPphotographer Lucy G and is lit to give the impression of looking out windows to beautiful nature scenes.

“We really wanted to enhance the patient and their family’s experience of care,” said Dubowitz. “We chose the artwork to transport the patient into a relaxing, uplifting environment full of Kiwi flora and fauna. There are a lot of little details to look for too, which helps keep people’s attention. I can confidently say it’s a one-of-a-kind scanner room experience.”

After ten days of training for staff, the new scanner has just come into full use. There are plans for follow-up training in a few months’ time to give staff a chance to fine-tune processes and learn more advanced skills.

About the Centre for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging

The Centre for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (CAMRI) at The University of ӰAPPis the first MRI venture in New Zealand to focus on high-end research work as well as routine clinical imaging. Drawing on a successful track record of research collaborations at the University, CAMRI delivers MRI research expertise and resources to leading commercial and government organisations.