New Machine Offers Powerhouse to The Brain

The quest to understand medicine’s final frontier, the human brain, will take a dramatic step forward today with the commissioning of a powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine set to offer neuroscientists a window through the human skull and into the workings of the brain. The new ultra-high field 7 Tesla human MRI machine is used to analyse and understand dementia, stroke, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and other neurological disorders. Conventional machines used in hospitals rely on 3 Tesla; a less powerful magnet. Senator Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education will represent the Prime Minister to officially launch the new machine today. The Melbourne Brain Centre in Parkville took possession of the machine back in March. Since then, scientists have been setting the machine into its new home. The MRI will offer unprecedented clarity of the brain’s workings, according to Professor Roger Ordidge, the Chair of Imaging Science at the University of Melbourne. “The difference between the 7 Tesla and the more common 3 Tesla is extraordinary and demonstrates how quickly technology advances for improved results,” says Prof Ordidge. Chairman of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Harold Mitchell AC, welcomed the machine’s capacity to diagnose diseases of the brain. “The human brain is the most complex living structure. To be able to view its workings without the need for surgery is fascinating,” says Mr Mitchell. The Imaging Unit within the Melbourne Brain Centre also houses a PET-CT scanner adjacent to the MRI and has attracted international talent to Melbourne where advanced imaging, research, training and technological development will now forge ahead. Key facts: The Siemens 7 Tesla system is 140,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, enabling extraordinarily detailed images of human anatomy. Comparing a 3 Tesla system with a 7 Tesla system is like comparing an everyday sedan to a Formula 1 car The Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit represents a total investment of approximately $20 million and includes a state-of-the-art combined Positron Emission Tomography (PET)/ Computer Tomography (CT) scanner. This enables molecular imaging and high quality x-rays to be accompanied in addition to the images acquired by the 7 Tesla scanner Funding for the 7T MRI has come from the Federal Government, the Florey and the University of Melbourne The magnet contains kilometres of super-conducting wire that has zero resistance when cooled to -270 degrees C. The only liquid that can be used for cooling is liquid helium. Helium is the second most common element in the Universe, being a major constituent of the sun and stars. However, it is very rare on Earth since it is so light that it quickly escapes the Earth’s gravity and rises into outer space. It has such a low boiling point because the atomic forces between helium atoms are very low.

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