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Turning moon boots into Cinderella’s slipper: The breakthrough that will help make MRIs more comfortable for patients and faster for clinicians

An industry-first MRI coil design turns a traditionally bulky patient covering into a blanket that is 60 percent lighter than conventional coils

When a patient enters a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, technologists use something called a “RF coil” to capture and listen to the electro-magnetic waves coming from the part of the body radiologists want to examine further. The coils act like an antenna picking up signals from a patient’s body and converting them to images.

Across the MR industry, there has been a concerted effort to make these coils more comfortable and flexible for patients so they conform to a variety of patient sizes and are easier for a technologist to lift and position.

Traditionally, these coils are bulky, heavy, rigid and take up a lot of space in the scanner, causing discomfort to patients and technologists.

A look at traditional coils

The new AIR Technology uses innovative conductor material designed for ultra-flexibility.

“A radiologist once reacted to a traditional MR coil by saying ‘I don’t want Neil Armstrong’s space boots, I want Cinderella’s slipper!’,” said Fraser Robb, PhD, and manager of MR RF Coils at GE Healthcare. “It was ironic as GE actually did design Neil Armstrong’s space boots a long time ago. So we set out for Cinderella’s slipper and we made our dreams and vision a reality with the AIR Coil.”

MR engineers at GE Healthcare held an innovation technology competition in-house with the goal of redefining the MRI experience from the inside-out putting patient comfort first. The MRI coil is the first thing to touch the patient, and a new coil design needed to conform to the patient – not the other way around.

AIR Technology is an industry-first suite of RF coils that enables total freedom in coil positioning and handling during a MRI scan.

How researchers at University of Wisconsin – Madison are using AIR Technology.

“In my opinion, one of the greatest advancements in MR is AIR Coil technology,” said Tammy Heydle, Senior MR Technologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and part of the team who evaluated the AIR Technology Suite in a clinical study. “There are almost endless possibilities for its use. The AIR Coils are light like a blanket, versatile and very comfortable for patient positioning.”

These flexible blue loops are a key component of AIR Technology

The new coil design is 60 percent lighter than conventional coils benefiting both patients and technologists, offers greater flexibility in all axes to help conform to patients’ anatomies and fits all patient ages, sizes and shapes.

AIR Technology uses innovative flexible conductor material designed to allow each coil element to be closer to the patient’s anatomy for improved signal reception, depth of penetration and image quality. Its ultra-lightweight and flexible design makes it easier for the technologist to position the coil on the patient.

AIR Coils are so flexible they even fit into a coffee mug!

AIR Coils also address several clinical needs including clinical coverage with a high signal-to-noise-ratio and optimized geometries for maximum use of parallel imaging.

“I’m pleased with the image quality,” said Scott Reeder, Professor of Radiology, Chief of MRI, Vice Chair of Research at University of Wisconsin – Madison, who led the clinical study. “The coils have great signal-to-noise-ratio. And our patients have given us excellent feedback on the overall comfort of the coil.”

Pictured above: AIR Technology is super light-weight and looks like a blanket. The 48-channel head coil is designed to fit 99.9 percent of patients.

Dr. Shreyas Vasanawala, MD/PhD, Director of MR, Chief of body MRI, Department of Radiology at Stanford University, sees a huge potential to use AIR Coils in pediatric imaging. He evaluated a series of pediatric cases using the coils as the design adapts and conforms around the anatomy, even in cases of severe abdominal pathological findings (pictured left below) and extreme musculoskeletal deformations (pictured right below).

Images courtesy of Dr. Vasanawala

“My smallest patient was a premature newborn,” said Dr. Vasanawala. “I could just lay the coil right on top of the newborn and it didn’t impact breathing.”

With traditional coils, Dr. Vasanawala said he would have to ease the weight on his pediatric patients by putting pillows under the bulky coils. This would impact the image resolution of the scans. The light-weight and flexible AIR Coils allow him to lay the coil right next to his pediatric patients’ chest walls making for great image resolution.

By eliminating copper waste and utilizing sustainable processes to reduce typical electronics and packaging waste, the AIR Technology Suite is also 90 percent greener and consumes 50 percent less power for lower operating costs compared to conventional coils.

“In our eyes, AIR Coils are even better than Cinderella’s slipper,” Robb said. “They are designed to fit almost everyone – not just one lucky individual.”

AIR Technology is currently available on SIGNA Premier, GE Healthcare’s newest wide bore 3.0T MRI system and the result of a collaboration between research institutions around the world working to design new imaging tools, particularly to aid researchers in the detection of biomarkers for the potential diagnosis of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).