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A helmet with ceramic materials inside that enhances an MRI signal would enable shorter scan times and more detailed images of the brain. Credit: HyQ Research Solutions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

By Jamie Oberdick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An academic/enterprise partnership that includes Penn State researchers is developing a new dielectric material to enable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines with shorter scan times and higher image resolutions, good news for cutting the cost of MRI scans for the hospitals and for patients who struggle with MRI-related anxiety. 

HyQ Research Solutions LLC, a company founded in part by Penn State faculty members, has a new approach for MRIs — using ceramic materials to make pads around the human body to enhance the MRI signal, enabling shorter scan times for patients inside the machines. Those who have had an MRI done know that the machine is a huge tube that a person in a prone position is loaded into. Being loaded into such a machine for an extended period, even with open-MRIs with better lighting and better ventilation, can be difficult for patients with claustrophobia.  

Ceramic materials also hold the potential for creating highly detailed images in living humans, especially for head MRIs that examine the brain. MRIs work by applying a strong static magnetic field that enables any tissue containing water to be excited with a radiofrequency (RF) field. The information coming back from the body is then captured by a device known as an RF receive coil. Not only does this process take quite a long time for someone inside an MRI machine, it also is relatively weak and that is why the resolution is rather low. It is truly a bottleneck, according to Michael Lanagan, professor of engineering science and mechanics and co-founder with HyQ Research Solution LLC. 

“Clinical MRI is often used as a tool of last resort because MRI scans are extremely slow and expensive,” Lanagan said. “Anyone who has had an MRI knows that you are in there for half-hour, 45 minutes, and it can be very uncomfortable, with lots of loud noises during the scan.”