With the development of the first ultra-high-field MRI scanner approved for clinical use, the team led by employee of Siemens Healthineers Dr. Christina Triantafyllou, Professor Arnd Doerfler, MD, head of University Hospital Erlangen’s Department of Neuroradiology, und Professor Mark E. Ladd, PhD, head of the Department of Medical Physics in Radiology at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, have achieved a breakthrough in precision medicine. MR imaging at 7 Tesla opens up new opportunities to support physicians in the early diagnosis of neurological diseases. With this innovation, the development team has made it to the top three of this year’s German Future Prize.
Awarded by the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, this prize is considered one of Germany's most prestigious awards for science and innovation. Besides the winning team, which received this year's award for the development of “Process Mining”, an innovative method for analyzing, visualizing, and understanding processes to design them more efficiently, a further project that makes CO2 usable as raw material made it into the final round.
The driving force behind the innovation is Christina Triantafyllou, who is responsible for ultra-high-field MRI solutions at Siemens Healthineers. Together with her collaboration partners, she has helped facilitate the translation of the MAGNETOM Terra 7-Tesla MRI system from use not only in basic research but to clinical diagnostic applications.
In this interview, Triantafyllou discusses the background to the development of the 7 Tesla scanner, the opportunities created by clinical approval, and the advantages of the technology for patients.
What makes your project innovative?
MAGNETOM Terra is the first and currently only 7-tesla scanner worldwide to be cleared for clinical use. In my opinion, this was the most important milestone. Of course, another significant aspect was the magnet. We have developed a completely new and innovative magnet design so that we can transport the system more easily and install it in hospitals. The magnet in MAGNETOM Terra is more powerful yet only half the weight of the magnets used in previous research systems. And the multi nuclei imaging is another huge innovation: with it we can measure metabolism in cells. This provides an indication of cell dysfunction, in tumors, for example.
What are the benefits of your team's innovation for patients?
Modern medicine has conquered a multitude of diseases. Diagnostic imaging procedures such as MRI have made a significant contribution. However, established MRI procedures can as yet can only support physicians as they diagnose dementia, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis (MS) at an advanced stage. Ultra-high-field MRI now takes society one step forward. Due to its very high level of detail, 7-tesla imaging can reveal the tiniest changes in anatomy and organ function. This means that this imaging technology can assist physicians as they detect pathological change at the metabolic level, which remains invisible with anatomical imaging, for example, for the early detection of MS. This is particularly crucial for young patients: the earlier the disease is detected, the earlier therapies can be introduced in the effort to prevent disability in later life. This represents a decisive step towards addressing the quality of life of patients and also aims to ease the burden on the health system.
What does the future hold for this innovation?
Our aim is to continue development of this innovative technology and to extend clinical approval to more multicore options and body regions. Our hope is that in a few years an ultra-high-field MRI scanner will be installed in every urban center, making 7-tesla MRI a routine aspect of precision medicine. This will allow even greater personalization of treatment in the future.