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A Multidisciplinary Team Creates Child-Friendly MRI Coils

Miki Lustig, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at University of California Berkeley wanted to make MRI coils less heavy and cumbersome for child patients. Ana Claudia Arias, PhD, a physicist in the same department was creating printed wearable devices made of liquid nanoparticles. Although Arias didn’t know anything about MRI and Lustig had no experience building hardware, the two combined forged to develop lightweight plastic MRI coils.

There has been a lack of advancement in imaging technology for children patients. Arias and Lustig worked with Shreyas Vasanawala, MD, a pediatric radiologist at Stanford Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Vasanawala wanted his young patients to have an alternative to going under anesthesia, and in some cases, use a breathing tube in order to breath properly under the heavy MRI coils. “Pediatricians have to accept a sub-optimal test,” Vasanawala told STAT.

Lustig, Vasanawala, and others have collaborated over the last ten years on creating technology that would reduce MRI time and the need for anesthesia. They had already finished designing “kid-sized” flexible coils that are not as heavy as typical coils, but can process more images in a faster amount of time.

Arias’s coils, on the other hand, are thinner, lighter, and sort of resemble a plastic document cover. Silver nanoparticles are screen printed on top of the plastic material. She and her research team have already created a pulse oximeter that reads blood oxygen levels, which can be used anywhere on the body and can be integrated with a wearable fitness tracker. According to a study, Arias’s oximeter performs as well as the traditional and more expensive ones used in hospitals.

Vasanawala says that this new generation of flexible and light coils has the potential for changing imaging protocol. In an incident he described to STAT reporter Usha Lee McFarling, a child with cancer was scheduled for a liver transplant, but the MRI technology enabled the surgeon to only remove the cancerous section of the liver, and the organ grew back to its original size within six weeks.

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