Advanced MRI scanner will aid research


London is to benefit from a massive 20-tonne scanner which is set to transform clinical research in the capital.

The state-of-the-art ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine will be the first of its kind in London and will be located at St Thomas’ Hospital, where a new clinical imaging research facility will be created to support its use.

The facility will allow scientists to increase their understanding of a wide range of conditions and ultimately improve patient care. A special focus will be research into diseases affecting babies and children.

In order to get the huge scanner, which is 3m wide and 3m high, inside the hospital, part of a wall will need to be removed, and special foundations will be put in place to support its weight.

The 7 tesla (T) MRI scanner Magnetom Terra, made by Siemens Healthineers, operates with a very strong 7T magnet, whereas most MRI scanners operate with 1.5T or 3T magnets. The higher magnetic field results in  more detailed, higher quality images which can detect the more subtle changes diseases cause in the body.

The pioneering equipment will be hosted by the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences, King’s College London, and will provide a facility for researchers from King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, Imperial College London and University College London, the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and other leading research institutions in the capital to work together.

Research will focus on neurological, heart and musculoskeletal conditions, as well as cancer and diseases affecting babies and children.

The facility will make use of the vast range of services offered at St Thomas’ Hospital to care for people during all stages of life, to ensure that patients can be scanned safely and can have access to wards, operating theatres and other investigations if needed.

The research facility will have its own dedicated entrance and waiting area, a large space for the scanner and a control room, a lab, an anaesthetic and recovery room which can also be used as a two-bed ward with a nurses station, and substantial office space. Using the scanner requires the technical expertise of highly-trained doctors, biologists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists.

Joseph Hajnal, Professor of Imaging Science at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, King’s College London, is the lead researcher. He said: “The 7T MRI scanner will offer enormous potential for research and investigation into a wide range of conditions. The new facility is truly collaborative and will be made available to all the best researchers across London who are doing exciting work. It will bring together London’s high concentration of world-leading researchers, expertise from the city’s many national medical centres and a huge patient group living in the capital.

“The scanner is a real powerhouse and will be one of only a few in the UK used to research many different conditions in an integrated way between several organisations.

“We expect that using it will lead to many benefits for patients, including faster diagnosis and more targeted treatments. If research shows that it does, then in future it will be used for patients in clinical settings, as well as for research.

“The new research facility is expected to build on the world-class research taking place in London and will benefit the whole of our city.”

The 7T scanner is expected to arrive at St Thomas’ Hospital later this year, with the new research facility up and running by the end of 2018. The project is funded by King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust.

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