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Working Magic: FDA Clears New Speedy MRI Scanning Technique

Kristin Kloberdanz
October 02, 2016
It takes about half an hour to have your brain scanned inside a magnetic resonance machine (MRI). Many people relax and tune out as they slide inside the snug scanning tunnel for the painless procedure. But for some people, claustrophobia can set in. Children and the elderly especially can perceive the 30 minutes as an eternity.
But things are changing. GE Healthcare, with the help of a Swedish software  company called SyntheticMR, developed a new way to make brain scans faster. The technology, which was recently cleared by the FDA, is called MAGiC, for MAGnetic resonance image Compilation. In a recent clinical trial, patients were scanned with conventional imaging and then with the MAGiC sequence. MAGiC took just a fraction of the normal time, about six minutes, to complete the scan.

021 A doctor studying MRI images. The machine scans the body one slice at a time. Image credit: Getty Images

It can take up to 30 minutes to complete a traditional comprehensive MRI exam. Like a photographer taking different exposures of the same object, the radiologist uses different contrasts for different views of the brain and adds them together. If the correct contrast is not taken the first time, the patient may need a rescan. MAGiC, however, can do it simultaneously and faster. Since patients may not need to come back, it can potentially reduce the cost.

“The benefit of MAGiC might be [best seen] in pediatrics and the elderly, where you have a very narrow window of cooperation and you need just one quick shot to get all the information you need,” says Dr. Lawrence Tanenbaum, VP and Medical Director of RadNet Eastern Division. He participated in a clinical study that verified the image quality of MAGiC scans were comparable to conventional images at a fraction of the scan time. “This shifts MR imaging from an arduous patient experience with scan after scan to a model of a quick exam where you can capture of all the necessary information and then have a comprehensive interrogation off the table.”

The beauty of MAGiC is that Tanenbaum didn’t need a new machine. The technology is a piece of software compatible with existing GE MRI machines. (New machines will come with it as an installed option, GE says.)

Doctors can retrospectively manipulate the image to change the contrast, kind of like changing the focus on an image after the camera has taken it. “Basically MAGiC opens the lens and focuses on a number of things simultaneously,” says Ajit Shankaranarayanan, global MR neuro applications manager at GE Healthcare. He likens the process to taking a digital photo with a wide angle, then zooming in. Once the patient has left the office, he says, the doctor has the ability to modify the image contrast or refine tiny portions of the image and enhance the photo—something impossible to do in typical MRI scans if the doctor did not specifically request those images. “With MAGiC, the radiologist can actually enhance the picture after the MRI,” he says.

MAGiC had been in clinical use outside the United States for about a year prior to the recent FDA clearance. So far more than 100 clinics have ordered the software globally.

Approximately 30 percent of MRIs are neuro exams, which is why MAGiC was developed specifically for brain use. “The potential here is enormous,” Shankaranarayanan says. “My hope is that one day, all body parts will be able to use this feature.”

Shankaranarayanan says that the speedy MRI scanner is building upon a common thread to “humanize MR.” Three years ago GE introduced SilentScan, which is a neuro acquisition technique that dramatically reduces the rock-concert decibel level normally experienced in an MRI scanner. Of MAGiC and SilentScan, Shankaranarayanan says, “These are the building blocks that are making an efficient and patient friendly scanner.”