Powerful ultra-high-field MRIs for early disease detection

The widespread adoption of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revolutionized clinical medicine, and the revolution has not stopped. Scientists in an EU-funded project are exploring ways to make MRIs even more effective - aiming to help patients get the best possible treatment through early disease detection.

For all its merits, MRI clinical imaging has limits that can hinder the quick and effective diagnosis of health problems in patients. For example, typical low-power (or ‘low-field’) MRIs produce reduced spatial and temporal image resolutions that can make it hard for medical practitioners to spot developing diseases.

‘Ultra-high-field’ MRIs – or scanners that produce more intense magnetic fields – can create more accurate and useful images. But their everyday use remains limited, in part because using conventional materials to produce stronger fields is a complex, expensive, and potentially hazardous task. For example, using too much power could overheat scanned bodily tissues, causing cellular damage.

The M-CUBE project aims to solve this problem through the use of ‘metamaterials’ in MRI scanners. Metamaterials are materials engineered to have artificial properties that natural materials cannot possess. For example, advanced metamaterials could help to create ‘super lenses’ that make images of small or far-away objects that are sharper than ever before possible.

The project’s main mission is to develop a metamaterial antenna technology that will allow scientists to manipulate electromagnetic waves at will while scanning a patient’s body. Scanners will be more powerful but also more sensitive, avoiding the risk of overheating faced by conventional high-powered MRIs.

In practice, such technology will make it easier for physicians to use high-field MRIs in their clinics with the potential to dramatically improve patient health.

M-CUBE has gathered an interdisciplinary consortium of eight universities, academic leaders, and two small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). Its members include physicists, medical doctors and industrial actors all working together.

Preclinical and clinical tests with volunteers will validate M-CUBE’s results. The project’s successful conclusion will pave the way for more accurate diagnoses and earlier disease detection.

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