Additionally, images can be gathered without a highly trained technician at the helm, and the size limits the cooling and electricity requirements. The price tag could also be reduced. Currently, a conventional 3T MRI can cost up to $3 million, but a low-field system could be a more affordable $50,000-$100,000 expenditure for a hospital or health system, he said.
Most importantly, however, Sheth said, portable, bedside MRI could improve access to an imaging technology that significantly impact patient care.
“The research already shows the portable machine can be wheeled into patient rooms in the ICU, but what’s to say it can’t be used throughout the hospital or outpatient clinic or Third World country,” he said. “It could completely democratize MR imaging.”
But, the advancement isn’t without possible challenges, he added. More work needs to be done to continually improve the image quality. The biggest, hurdle, however, will be housing and processing the volume of data the machine will likely be able to collect.
Use and Impact
Portable MRI images are not as high quality as those from a conventional MRI, and it is not intended to replace the high-field technology, Sheth said. But, even these early images are comparable to those captured by CT.
“In this setting, the images from the low-field MRI are already better than CT in terms of being able to determine gross pathology, such as stroke or hemorrhage, and seeing ventricles and other brain anatomy,” he said. “And, hardware, software, and image reconstruction improvements are still coming.”
Today, he said, portable MRI can best be used to answer acute clinical questions, such as the presence of a brain hemorrhage.
Ultimately, Sheth said, portable MRI could have wide-ranging impact. While current research has focused on stroke, more research is underway into its utility with head injuries and other neurological traumas. Potential applications could also exist in musculoskeletal imaging.