How new MRI technology is transforming the patient experience

MRI coils in use at places like Fairfax Radiology Consultants are designed to conform to the human body, just like a comfortable blanket

For many patients, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan can trigger feelings of discomfort, anxiety and sometimes fear. Now a new kind of coil technology changing the game on this experience, while helping radiologists get clear images for confident diagnoses.

During an MRI scan, technologists use an “RF coil” to capture and listen to the electro-magnetic waves coming from the part of the body radiologists are imaging. This rigid coil acts like an antenna picking up signals from a patient’s body and converting them to images. But they’re usually bulky, heavy and uncomfortable for patients and technologists alike.

AIR Technology Coils are designed to conform to the human body just like a comfortable blanket. It uses innovative conductor material designed for ultra-flexibility, and each coil is lightweight and flexible to closely wrap around patients for incredible image quality.

Image courtesy of GEHC

“We were impressed right from the get-go. It’s very light, comfortable and flexible. It's a big change from the larger, rigid anterior array (AA) coils that we used to use. For patients who have had previous scans with the rigid, large AA coil, they have commented that the AIR Coil is much more comfortable,” says Tom Schrack, ARMRIT, MRSO, Manager of MR Education and Technical Development at Fairfax Radiological Consultants in Fairfax, Virginia. Fairfax has been using AIR Coils on the SIGNA Architect MRI scanner.

The new coil design is 60 percent lighter than conventional coils and conforms to a variety of patient sizes – in fact, the 48-channel head coil is designed to fit 99.9 percent of patients, from preemies to professional linebacker. Its ultra-lightweight and flexible design makes it easier for the technologist to position the coil on the patient.

This innovative conductor material was designed to allow each coil element to be closer to the patient’s anatomy for improved signal reception (also called SNR), depth of penetration and image quality. “We noticed the boost in SNR right from the beginning. It was clear that the AIR coil was giving us greater SNR as compared to the large, rigid AA coil that we typically use,” says Schrack.

He says they’re treating this extra SNR like “money in the bank” to scan faster and get crisper images, especially in musculoskeletal imaging of long bones and hips. “The fun part is deciding how to spend that money in the bank,” he says. “We increased the acceleration because now we don’t have to worry about a loss in SNR. As you go up in acceleration, you tend to lose SNR, but because we have this extra SNR, we can accelerate faster, and that dropped down some scan times.”

In other types of scans, he’s maintained the acceleration and increased the spatial resolution for sharper images. He estimates that in non-fat suppression imaging, they cut scanning series time from a four-minute scan to a two-minute scan. In fat-suppressed imaging, they noticed an increase in spatial resolution. “The images are phenomenal. They're just phenomenal. They're textbook quality and we get it every time.”

Fairfax Radiology’s MSK radiologists are also impressed. They now demand the AIR Coil for certain exams such hips, brachial plexus, and long bone imaging. “It’s awesome. It's not often that we have something that is such a win right out of the box. And it's all because of how it's designed. It's light, it's lightweight, and there is definitely a boost in our SNR,” he says.

AIR Coils greatly reduce a common worry with flexible coils called decoupling, when a flexible coil overlaps over itself, loses signal and interrupts the scan. This is especially common when imaging legs, hips and shoulders, where coils are wrapped around the body part.

“The beauty about being able to wrap your anatomy is that where the coils overlap, they don't decouple. That's a pretty substantial technological advance,” says Schrack. “You can literally wrap up your anatomy like a hot dog bun and not have to worry about it. That makes our life a lot easier and makes the scans go a lot quicker.”

AIR Technology integrates into two automated techniques, AIR Touch for coil selection and AIRx for slice placement.

AIRx is an AI-based, automated workflow tool for MRI brain scanning that automatically “prescribes” slices to help reduce redundant, manual steps. “The integration of AIR coils and AIRx means that the operator never has to worry about picking the right coil element combination,” says Schrack. “You don’t to take any time selecting or deselecting coil elements. Based on the operator’s scan prescription, the system will automatically turn on the exact configuration of coil elements for the best coverage and SNR.”

AIR Touch is an intelligent coil localization and selection tool that acts as the bridge between AIR Technology Coils and the MR system. It enables automatic coil element selection that is unique for each individual patient and anatomical area that is being scanned.

AIR Touch informs the system when the coil is connected and allows the technologist to landmark the patient with a single touch. “We used to have to touch the table once for the center of the coil and then again where we want to landmark,” says Schrack. “Now we don’t have to tell the system where the center of the coil is. It figures that out for the localizing series. So now we select the table side once for the landmark and it’s done.”

Schrack says this advanced technology is the future of MRI imaging. “It really is the next big thing. AIR Coils will change the industry.”