GE gets NIH grant to build a better MRI magnet

* Plan is to make smaller, easier-to-maintain machines

* Team plans to use newly discovered superconducting wire

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Jan 27 (BestGrowthStock) – Researchers at General Electric
Co (GE.N: ) won a $3.27 million grant from the National
Institutes of Health to develop a better magnet for MRI
machines that will make them cheaper and easier to use in
underdeveloped nations, the company said on Wednesday.

The aim is to make an electromagnetic coil that will
deliver the same quality of images produced on current magnetic
resonance imaging or MRI machines without the need to be kept
at ultra-cool temperatures.

The need for a large vessel of liquid helium inside the
machines for cooling is one reason MRI machines are so big and
costly.

Kathleen Amm, lab manager at GE Global Research in
Niskayuna, New York, said her team aims to eliminate the need
for liquid helium. To do that, they plan to replace the coils
of niobium-titanium superconducting wire used in its current
magnets with magnesium diboride, a new superconductor
discovered in 2001.

Amm would not say exactly what the company will use to keep
the system cool, but she said, “It’s a lot easier to deal
with.”

The company’s GE Healthcare unit is a key player in the
estimated $5.5 billion MRI equipment market, along with
Siemens Medical Solutions (SIEGn.DE: ) and Philips (PHG.AS: ).

Amm said GE is working on the project now in anticipation
of future shortages of liquid helium, a limited resource that
comes from natural gas wells.

Getting rid of the liquid helium will allow the group to
build smaller MRI machines, and allow the company to place the
machine in underdeveloped countries that have limited access to
liquid helium. All that will be needed is electricity.

Minfeng Xu, a researcher in Amm’s lab who is heading up the
project, said the new niobium-titanium superconductor will
likely be cheaper because the raw materials cost will be less.

The group is starting on a four-year research project that
will culminate in a prototype magnet.

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(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

GE gets NIH grant to build a better MRI magnet