Arab Health 2024: Upgrades to MRI technology to help us live longer

Modern advances makes scans more efficient and affordable

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Scans to identify early signs of ill health are becoming a cornerstone of longevity, as patients seek to get ahead of ageing by spending thousands of dollars to check for potentially life-threatening problems.

Magnetic resonance imagery has been used by hospitals for a generation to spot signs of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health anomalies.

But as the technology becomes more efficient and affordable, it could reach a new health-conscious community of people who have adopted a wellness-focused lifestyle.

Thousands of Americans have already spent more than $2,500 on the latest status symbol – a full-body MRI scan from Prenuvo, which claims it can detect hundreds of health conditions.

You cannot rely just on AI, it helps but you have to have the clinical expertise also
Dr Hidayath Ali Ansari, staff physician at the imaging institute at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

The latest imaging technology was on display during day two of Arab Health in Dubai, offering insight into how wider access to state-of-the-art diagnostic testing technology might help all of us to live longer.

Siemens, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of scanning hardware, is likely to benefit from an increase in demand.

The company’s Magnetom Free Max scanner promises to transform the industry. The virtually helium-free MRI device is less expensive and lighter, and offers access to a larger group of patients.

“We work in the continuum of care, so what we do is preventive,” said Vivek Kanade, managing director of Siemens Healthineers for the Middle East and Africa.

“Any citizen patient will go through this journey, it's prevention, diagnostics, treatment, the therapy and the follow-up.

“And so, most healthy citizens are looking for preventive measures.

“But if there is a symptom of any kind, then they go through the diagnostics where we are present 100 per cent.”

The patient experience is also set to improve, with the claustrophobia often associated with the MRI procedure likely to become a thing of the past, as the latest scanners need smaller, less cumbersome magnets and equipment, allowing more space for the patient being treated.

“Mostly, these MRI scanners are installed in larger towns or big cities, as it needs a lot of infrastructure,” said Mr Kanade.

“Current MRIs have helium tanks which need to be filled with up to 1,500 litres of helium,” he said, adding that the gas is “very expensive and scarce”.

Helium must be kept at -279°C during shipping, he added, “so you need cryogenic containers to transport it from source”.

“Because of this huge helium tank, the weight of the magnet goes up significantly.”

The latest technology, though, goes some way towards lightening the load, Mr Kanade said.

“This machine needs less than one 700ml bottle of helium to operate, which you do not need to refill for the next 10 years, rather than every six months. It is a lot more cost-effective, and accessible.”

Another diagnostic advance, virtual neurology technology, were also on display at Arab Health.

Danish firm BrainCapture showed off its electroencephalogram (EEG) device, an easy-to-use headset that promises to widen access to brain scans.

Whole body MRI 'expensive and laborious'

The headset, which can be connected to a smartphone, picks up electrical impulses which enable it to spot signs of epilepsy or brain injury.

“It's looking to detect electrical signals from the brain,” said Tue Lehn-Schioler, chief executive of BrainCapture.

“We can see clear temporal patterns. That’s why it's so good at [identifying] epilepsy, because there are very clear spikes that you would not always see with an MRI.

“We can bring this kind of care to make it much more accessible – we can get readings at one end of the country and interpret them at a hospital thousands of miles away.”

MRI is likely to remain the benchmark for medical diagnostics, with its ability to distinguish between fat, soft tissue and muscle, and to spot lesions, leading to better diagnostic capability.

The technology can detect anything from simple inflammations to large tumours, and can be used as a screening tool to identify elevated liver fat or cirrhosis.

“A whole body MRI can be used to identify cancers, lesions and tumours, but it is an expensive, laborious process,” said Dr Hidayath Ali Ansari, staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic's imaging institute in Abu Dhabi.

“The scan itself can take almost an hour, as it takes care of the whole body from head to toe, producing a range of 11,000 images to consider.

“And you're looking at every region of the body separately, so we may have to use two or three radiologists to compile a collective report for the patient.

“You cannot rely just on AI, it helps but you have to have the clinical expertise also.

“If the patient has to spend about 30 minutes for a regular scan, that itself can be a claustrophobic experience for some.

“But if someone has to spend an hour and a half in the scanner, that's quite a lot of time in there.”

Updated: January 31, 2024, 9:09 AM