Looking to avoid using helium — which has become an increasingly scarce resource of late — for MRIs, Royal Philips is teaming up with superconducting magnetics researchers from MagCorp to develop MRI scanners that don’t require helium cooling to get their magnets to the requisite extremely low temperatures. The amount of available helium in the world has dropped precipitously, forcing suppliers to be stingy with it and putting healthtech developers in a crunch to find alternatives for its multifarious and often critical uses in the industry. When used in MRI scanners, helium’s low mass allows it to escape the planet’s atmosphere permanently after it is vented.
Using its BlueSeal magnet technology, Philips already manufactures non-venting MRI scanners that only require 7 liters of liquid helium over the machine’s lengthy lifespan. This puts them strides ahead of standard scanners, which on average need initial helium charges of up to 2,000 liters as well as top-offs for the replacement of vented gas. All told, lifetime helium use for the typical MRI scanner can reach as much as 10,000 liters.
Now, the search is on for different superconducting materials capable of withstanding higher temperatures than the niobium found in most MRI machines. Philips, working closely via the MagCorp deal with material scientists from Florida State University’s (FSU) MagLab, part of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, will also have help in exploring commercialization options for the new material and further fleshing out its use in new MRI machine designs.
“Combining Philips’ forward-thinking approach with FSU MagLab’s scientists, who have a wealth of relevant expertise in the application of new superconductors, means Philips will be in the best position to develop innovations around this technology,” said MagCorp Director Jeff Whalen.