New sensor for MRI scanners

Research which could eliminate heat discomfort for patients inside Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) scanners is being carried out at Nottingham Trent University.

Experts at the university are looking at developing technology to monitor patients’ body tissue temperature, which can increase dramatically inside the scanner.

MRI scanners use magnetic fields to build up a picture of the inside of the body – the stronger the magnetic resonance, the more accurate the image. The downside, however, is the higher the strength, the higher the inducement of heat into the body tissue.

The team, from the university’s Optoelectronics and Displays Research Group, is investigating the possibility of using an optical laser-based sensor to observe temperature and oxygen concentration levels in the body. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding the project by almost £125,000.

By knowing the temperature of the patient undergoing the scan, the system’s power could be adjusted as necessary to make it more comfortable. Rather than someone standing nearby continually asking the patient if they are happy, an automatic feedback could be used to control the strength and keep them at a suitable temperature.

The team, led by Dr. Robert Ranson, cannot use any metallic temperature measurement tool as metal absorbs the magnetic field, causing it to overheat.  Their work will involve researching the sensing capabilities of various phosphor materials under a range of environmental conditions. Because a phosphor-based sensor is purely optical it has the ability to be used in situations where minimal interference with electronic equipment is essential.

Dr. Ranson said: “With the constant advances made within system engineering, instrumentation is becoming more and more complicated and is subsequently heavily reliant on sensor-based technology. This study will be of interest to all companies involved in this type of technology.”

He added: “The results of the research could lead to such improvements as eliminating the need for verbal communication during MRI scanning, in vivo medical sensing of both body temperature and levels of oxygen in the blood, and even providing a more cost-effective way of testing for oxygen levels surrounding carbon dioxide emissions from car exhausts.”