A giant MRI to explore the hidden side of the brain

NeuroSpin’s newest superpowerful toy is called Iseult. © CEA

The most powerful MRI medical scanner in the world, equipped with a magnet weighing more than 130 tons, was presented to the media on July 6 by the NeuroSpin institute, a research center dedicated to human brain imaging at the Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA) Paris-Saclay (France).

With its 11.7 teslas (T, magnetic field unit), Iseult’s magnet, which arrived in Saclay on May 19, is the centerpiece of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner to explore the human brain. The massive machine, measuring 5m long and 5m in diameter, will produce a magnetic field that is 200,000 times superior to the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing researchers to collect images of the human brain that are 100 times more accurate than with current scanners. “We intend to use the 11.7T MRI scanner to understand, even treat, certain neurological or psychiatric conditions (such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia…),” says Denis Le Bihan, founder and director of NeuroSpin.

It’s a French first. Other similar projects, especially in the U.S. and South Korea, are under development.

Cross-section of Iseult’s magnet. In orange, the superconducting magnets. In blue, the mechanical structure and helium cooling chamber. © CEA-Irfu

However, we won’t see the first human brain image produced by Iseult until 2020. Meanwhile, the NeuroSpin teams must increase the current inside the magnet to its nominal value in order to reach 11.7T, which should take one year. Once this magnetic field is reached, the adjustment phase begins. “The first image we’ll do is of a kiwi fruit, because it has lots of details inside (seeds, grooves, etc.) that sort of recall the different cortex and hippocampus areas of the human brain,” explains Lionel Quettier, head of the Iseult project and magnetism engineer at CEA.

More info on the CEA’s Iseult project

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