Dr David Taylor, Founder and Chairman of Surrey-based MR Solutions – the world leader in preclinical scanning and the only company to have an installed base of cryogen free superconducting scanners across the world – shares his company’s vision
Before 2010, the only commercial preclinical MRI scanners with a strength of over 3T (Tesla, the unit strength of a magnet) were giant machines weighing many tons and requiring their own room. To reach such high magnet strengths the magnet had to be superconductive and for that to occur it needed to be cooled to four degrees Kelvin (minus 269 degrees C).
We work closely with the world’s leading academic institutions, which are the major customers for these research scanners. They told us that these existing mammoth machines were very expensive in themselves but also in terms of building requirements – strengthening of floors, space required – and ongoing helium top-ups and they needed a better and more compact scanner.
There had been one-off cryogen-free superconducting magnets for non-MRI applications, so we knew it could be done. We decided to produce a commercial cryogen-free 3T MRI scanner which could be walked through the door, have a reduced-stray magnetic field from a few centimeters (previously meters), did not require expensive top-ups of helium, did not require building alterations and – of course – could provide better scans.
The radical redesign of the magnet and systems took over three years and many iterations. Even today, it requires great expertise and experience to build these new cryogen-free, MRI systems.
The key development was incorporating a cooling system into the windings of the magnet, driven by an off the shelf cryocooler. This led to the advent of a ‘plug and play’ compact scanner, which can simply be wheeled into a laboratory. The casing became the Faraday cage and a solenoid placed on the outside of the main magnet coil reduces the stray magnetic field to a few centimetres.
Since then, we have developed a whole range of scanners with stronger magnets and a range of bore sizes. Systems are available in 3T, 4.7T, 7T and 9.4T with 17, 24 or 26 cm bores. The magnet can be varied in strength and, most importantly, these systems provide superior soft tissue contrast and molecular imaging capabilities.
But we did not stop there. Again our colleagues in the research centres wanted to have PET (photon emission computed tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging capabilities incorporated in the scanning system. To provide the SPECT images we devised a system with partners where the four gamma camera heads and focusing collimator can be easily clipped on to the front of the bore of the MRI scanner to provide state of the art 3D SPECT images. The SPECT images can be registered with the MRI images providing anatomical-functional combined capability. The SPECT gamma camera can also be used independently.
The PET capability is provided by new solid state detectors which are incorporated within the bore of the MRI scanner, or alternatively by clipping on a PET module to the front. The technology combines the exquisite structural and functional characterisation of tissue provided by MRI with the extreme sensitivity of PET imaging for metabolism and tracking of uniquely labelled cell types or cell receptors. Today all systems in our range of MRI scanners can incorporate PET or SPECT or both to provide simultaneous or sequential imaging capabilities.
While these developments on the magnet capabilities and the addition of other scanning modalities continued we were also focussed on the further development of our EVO spectrometer (the brains of the machine which controls the scanner, collects the data and transforms the magnetic readings into very detailed images).
We were already the world leader in this field providing spectrometers to independent manufacturers both for the clinical and preclinical market. The tenth generation technology, EVO2+, has been designed with the latest digital technology for the widest range of features of any spectrometer on offer with an unlimited number of TX and RX channels and can operate MRI systems up to 11.7T.
The key to our business has been listening to our customers and delivering what they want. Constant innovation in this rapidly developing field is essential if you want to be at the forefront of the business. As a small company, we had many growing pains but we are well over the hump with more than a thousand installations across the world. We have put in place a worldwide network of support, set up our own magnet factory and have laid the foundations. We are now starting to reap the rewards.
However we never stop innovating. We already have a stream of new developments in the pipeline. We are also now offering a range of very high spec CT scanners, which work together as a family with our existing scanners. Our success has been recognised with the Queens’ Award for Enterprise (for Innovation); the US-based global R&D 100 Awards (for innovation); and the Queens’ Award for Enterprise (for International Trade).
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