Having an MRI scan can be a very uncomfortable experience. Laying down inside a fully-enclosed tube can be claustrophobic, not to mention the loud noise that the machine makes as it scans.
A collaboration of scientists and engineers from ‘Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’, Harvard, Yale, University of Minnesota, and the University of Sao Paulo has resulted in new technology to make MRIs more comfortable, accessible, and affordable.
“We have come up with a way to make clinical quality head imaging MRI systems much more compact,” says Ben Parkinson from the Robinson Research Institute at Victoria. “We believe this will help improve the accessibility and availability of MRI. However, we didn’t just want to focus on the MRI technology itself, we wanted to make sure the patient experience was improved too.”
Ben worked with Dr Edgar Rodriguez-Ramirez and his team from Victoria University of Wellington-School of Design Innovation to take the superconducting magnet design developed at the Robinson Research Institute and build it into an MRI system.
“We investigated how patients and clinicians would interact with this technology and then designed physical interfaces—everything from a seat to controls—to create a more comfortable patient experience,” Edgar says.
Edgar is a MedTech CoRE Associate Investigator, and is working on many projects funded by the CoRE. He and his team at Victoria University of Wellington built an MRI prototype chair which gently moves the head into the helmet-like scanner, leaving the rest of their body free. Either the MRI technician or the patient can control the leg rest, back support, head support, and chair height.
“Designing the head support was a big challenge, as the head shouldn’t move more than one millimetre in any direction for at least 20 minutes while being scanned,” says Edgar. “After a lot of tests, we have designed a patent-pending inflatable support system that controls the head position, yet remains comfortable for the patient.”
“The scanner also has a window, so patients can see outside during the scan. Taken together, our design significantly reduces anxiety and claustrophobia for patients who require a head MRI scan.”
The team at the Robinson Research Institute is currently completing some further work on the magnet before the prototype is shipped to Minnesota for testing.
The project was recently honoured for its user design in the Strategy and Research Award category at the Core77 Design Awards.
“These awards recognise global excellence in design, and we are honoured to be counted among those acknowledged at the awards,” says Edgar.