The MRI machine’s power of attraction is that it continues to adapt to meet new demands.

Whether you’re 5 or 55, chances are good that you’ll be getting an MRI sometime in the next year. MRI is one of the most common imaging procedures. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 28 million MRI procedures are performed in the United States each year. It should come as no surprise then that manufacturers are going to great lengths to meet changing market demands. Physicians are looking for enhanced diagnostic quality as well as improved workflow, productivity, and efficiency. Patients want more comfortable MRI exams. It appears manufacturers are succeeding on all fronts.

Today’s MRIs are quieter and less claustrophobic for patients. For hospitals and imaging centers, MRIs are faster—increasing throughput—but still delivering high-quality images. And there are more options to choose from now. While a traditional MRI machine might cost anywhere from $1 to $3 million, several manufacturers now offer affordable models designed, for example, with community hospitals in mind. Clearly, MRI continues to have strong pull in the imaging community due to several factors including high-quality imaging, lower cost options, and improved patient comfort. In our feature story “MRI Evolution” (page 26), we explore some of the latest solutions, including a new musculoskeletal extremity scanner from GE Healthcare.

MRI machines keep evolving to meet changing needs and specific patient populations. For example, Toshiba America Medical Systems Inc just announced FDA clearance for the extra-large knee Array coil for its Vantage Titan MR system. With obesity on the rise, the knee coil is a direct response to a need for solutions that improve clinical accuracy for bariatric imaging. According to the company, Toshiba is the first vendor to offer an extra-large knee coil with a 22 cm interior diameter for MR imaging.

Approximately 72 million Americans are obese. Toshiba’s latest enhancement to its MRI will help ensure these patients receive the right care. Properly fitting coils are essential to precisely diagnose a patient’s condition, and this is all the more important in bariatric imaging where coils are often too small to accommodate bariatric patients. In addition to ensuring greater accuracy for clinicians, the new knee coil promises a more comfortable exam for the patient.

While MRI might be considered an older modality, innovations like Toshiba’s extra-large knee coil and GE Healthcare’s extremity scanner continue to keep it relevant. And speaking of innovation, researchers, inventors, and clinicians are regularly finding new applications for MRI. I recently learned about a Columbus, Ohio-based start-up company, EXCMR, Ltd. The team at EXCMR have invented an MRI compatible treadmill, proprietary software, and the clinical method to perform cardiac stress test evaluations in an MRI environment. A cardiac MRI researcher and a cardiologist, both affiliated with The Ohio State University, are the pioneers behind EXCMR’s new technology.

According to EXCMR’s Web site, the key enabling technology is a non-ferromagnetic treadmill that uses water hydraulic power, allowing placement adjacent to an MRI machine. The system enables image acquisition within 60 seconds after exercising, meeting American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines. The system, according to the company, unites “the superior imaging capabilities of CMR with the necessary direct observation and ECG evaluation of the exercising patient with known or suspected CAD.” EXCMR is aiming to launch the new system in 2012.

With ongoing improvements and enhanced features from manufacturers as well as new applications from researchers and clinicians, the MRI is likely to remain a draw with physicians and patients alike.

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews