Advanced MRI scanners being developed by University of California Berkeley will allow doctors and scientists to see the brain in greater detail than ever before, which could lead to ground-breaking treatments for brain disorders such as degenerative diseases, schizophrenia and developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders.

Two Scottish companies have been instrumental in the development of the equipment used in the NextGen 7T scanner for the university, Wideblue and MR Coiltech, both based in Glasgow.

Wideblue is a leading medical device product consultancy and MR Coilech is a world leader in high-density MRI head coil development.

Results of images produced by the University using the scanners have been published in the prestigious peer reviewed journal Nature Methods.

The paper reports that the innovative design of the RF head coils helps achieve a tenfold better resolution for functional MRI brain imaging. This means that scientists can see functional MRI features at an isotropic resolution of 0.4mm across compared to the 2-3mm which is achieved by standard MRI.

The scanner can reach this much higher resolution by using 128 sensor coils compared to 32 in a standard MRI scanner. The advanced scanner records up to 10 times more detail than current 7T scanners and over 50 times more detail than current 3T scanners commonly used in hospitals world-wide.

Lead researcher at Berkeley, David Feinberg, said: “The NexGen 7T scanner is a new tool that allows us to look at the brain circuitry underlying different diseases of the brain with higher spatial resolution in fMRI, diffusion and structural imaging, and therefore to perform human neuroscience research at higher granularity. This puts UC Berkeley at the forefront of human neuroimaging research,”

He added: “The ultra-high-resolution scanner will allow research on underlying changes in brain circuitry in a multitude of brain disorders, including degenerative diseases, schizophrenia and developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder.”

Wideblue were responsible for the detailed mechanical design to fit up to 96 Radio Frequency (RF) sensor coils into the space normally occupied by 32 RF sensor coils found in standard MRI scanners. The electronics were designed by MR Coiltech and the equipment was assembled and tested at MR Coiltech’s premises at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Dr Shajan Gunanmony, CEO, MR Coiltech said “We are delighted with the design work undertaken by Wideblue. This is a very complex 3D advanced electronics product and achieving 96 channels within such a small space was a real challenge. The resulting image quality obtained with our product at the University of Berkeley speak for themselves and are the forefront of research anywhere in the world.”

For a more detailed report see Nature Methods.