2.4 million euros enables radically new MRI designs to increase accessibility in developing countries and general healthcare

22 April 2021• PRESSRELEASE

Professor Andrew Webb in the Department of Radiology at Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) receives 2.4 million euros from the European Research Council. With this Advanced Grant Webb aims to redesign MRI systems from the ground-up to increase their accessibility and applicability. Webb’s group is already working on a portable and affordable MRI system that will be used in Uganda for children with hydrocephalus. This grant will allow Webb and colleagues to develop affordable MRI systems for many other applications.

"MRI is essential in modern healthcare," says Andrew Webb, head of the LUMC Gorter Center in the Department of Radiology. “It allows clinicians to examine every part of the body. The Achilles' heel, however, is the price. Purchasing, maintaining and operating MRI systems costs millions of euros and requires highly qualified staff." As a result, 70% of the world's population does not have any access to MRI. In the developed world MRI plays essentially no role in early-stage diagnosis or screening. With the Advanced Grant titled PASMAR (Portable and Sustainable Magnetic Resonance), Webb wants to address both problems.

Portable MRI systems 

To increase the availability and role of MRI the system has to be completely rethought and redesigned. Webb explains. "We need these types of MRI systems to cost tens of thousands rather than millions of euros, to be maintainable locally, to incorporate sustainable manufacturing principles, and able to be operated by general healthcare staff. We also aim for it to be portable, meaning a weight around 100 kilos rather than 20 tonnes. So cost and weight have to be ~1% of a commercial MRI system!" 

Thousands of permanent magnets

"To develop a low-cost low-field MRI, we use sophisticated computer algorithms to design a system made up of thousands of small, inexpensive magnets to create a magnetic field strong enough to produce images. This type of flexibility allows us to come up with completely new designs of MRI systems. For example, one idea is to create a miniature strap-on magnet that can be used for real-time scanning over the body’s surface. One of the reviewers of the grant referred to this as science fiction, but if you don’t shoot then you cannot score!" 

Open-source 

Webb believes it is important that this new development reaches as many people in developing countries as possible. That is why the design of the MRI system will be open to the public. This means the system can also be maintained and repaired locally.  

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