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New Sensor Technology Streamlines MRI Scans

In a recent study published in ACS Sensors, researchers from the University of Chinese Academy of Science set out to design a TENG-based sensor that could be integrated into an MRI machine. This self-powered sensor enhances the experience for both patients and technicians by detecting movement and immediately halting the MRI scan.

New Sensor Technology Streamlines MRI Scans
This self-powered sensor (circled in yellow) attached to a headrest within an MRI machine could help make imaging collection more efficient by detecting patient movement in real-time. Image Credit: ACS Sensors 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.4c00319

Brain tumors and liver disease are among the many ailments that are frequently diagnosed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. However, patients must always remain motionless to prevent image blurring and, thus, the necessity for a new scan.

A patient must remain motionless during an MRI scan for several minutes to avoid “motion artifacts” that could distort the results. The patient's movement must be detected as soon as it occurs to stop the scan and allow the technician to take a new one to guarantee a clear image.

The MRI table's sensors could be used to track motion, but magnetic materials cannot be used because metals interfere with the MRI technology. Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which run on static electricity produced by friction between polymers, are ideal for this particular scenario, as they do not require metal or magnetic components.

To help avoid motion artifacts, Li Tao, Zhiyi Wu, and associates set out to design a TENG-based sensor that could be integrated into an MRI machine.

The team made the TENG by enclosing a central layer of silicone between two layers of plastic film painted with graphite-based conductive ink. These substances were chosen on purpose because they would not obstruct an MRI scan. Electrostatic charges from the plastic film moved to the conductive ink when pressed together, producing a current that could exit through a wire.

This sensor was added to an MRI table intended to be placed beneath the patient's head. During testing, the sensor picked up movements, such as a person turning their head from side to side or lifting it off the table, and sent a signal to a computer.

The technician's computer displayed a pop-up window, an auditory alert went off, and the MRI scan stopped. The researchers believe this work could make MRI scans less stressful and more efficient for technicians and patients by producing higher-quality images during a single procedure. 

Journal Reference:

Hu, Y., et al. (2024) Flexible Sensor for Real-Time Monitoring of Motion Artifacts in Magnetic Resonance Imaging. ACS Sensor.

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