New device streamlines infant exam

US researchers have pioneered a magnetic-resonance compatible incubator that will allow radiologists to safely and efficiently obtain quality diagnostic images of sick infants.

Researchers from Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine of USC have pioneered a magnetic-resonance compatible incubator that will allow radiologists to safely and efficiently obtain quality diagnostic images of sick infants.

An article describing the incubator appeared in a recent issue of the journal ‘Radiology’.

‘Magnetic resonance imaging is the most desirable imaging test for many newborns, because there is no exposure to radiation,’ said Stefan Bluml, research scientist at the Saban Research Institute of CHLA, associate professor of radiology at the Keck School and lead author on the paper.

‘However, many sick newborns cannot be studied by MR, even when clinically indicated, because of concerns for their safety during transport and during the procedure.’

There are considerable challenges in providing good diagnostic images of newborns, some of which include monitoring their circulation and maintaining constant control of temperature, airflow and humidity.

Consequently, few newborns are examined with MR imaging, which is, for many indications, the most accurate non-invasive diagnostic test. Unlike x-rays and CT scans, MR imaging involves no radiation risk.

‘The MR-compatible incubator streamlines the MR examinations of newborns and allows the nursing staff to do most of the patient preparation inside the safe environment of the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit,’ Bluml said.

The researchers conducted 13 MR imaging studies to evaluate the MR-compatible incubator with air temperature and humidity regulation and integrated radio-frequency coils. They found that the quality of the images they obtained were superior to those that can be acquired with standard MR equipment.

The customized small coils used with the MR-compatible incubators reduce scan time and improve image resolution, Bluml said. Typically, MR imaging exams of infants are performed with the manufacturer’s one-size-fits-all coils, which are designed for adult heads.

Bluml is hopeful that this new technology will allow MR studies of newborns that will result in earlier and improved diagnoses and enable early intervention and treatment. He said he also believes that the incubator’s safe environment will enable more neonatal clinical research.

‘We believe that MR-compatible incubators are beneficial for babies and will be cost effective in the long run,’ Bluml said.