In this Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project, a team of researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) will work with the engineering team at NeoView, Inc. to design and build novel body coil and incubator prototypes for a 3 Tesla Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) MRI system. These components will play a central role in NeoView's neonatal MRI product which will for the first time bring a fully-featured high-field MRI into the NICU. The novel body coil replaces the hard structural components and hollow air spaces used in existing body coil designs with layers of Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) supported by a rigid internal skeleton. In effect, the RF coil becomes a large cylindrical ?pillow? placed in the bore of the magnet. In a prototype 1.5 Tesla NICU MRI scanner at CCHMC this concept has been shown to reduce the acoustic noise generated by the scanner by 9 dBA with no impact on MR scanner protocols or image quality. Preliminary tests have shown that a hard-shell incubator placed inside the quiet coil reduces the acoustic noise exposure for the patient by an additional 10 dBA. The reduction in a neonate's acoustic noise exposure afforded by NeoView's small magnet, the quiet coil, and incubator is expected to be approximately 30 dBA. This dramatic decrease in noise has the potential to enable MRI neonatal scanning without the need for hearing protection. The team of CCHMC researchers and NeoView engineers will work together to first evaluate the MR properties of MLV in a conventional whole-body 3T MRI system. A 25 cm high-pass birdcage coil will then be designed using electromagnetic simulations and built using layers of MLV. Image quality and acoustic attenuation evaluations will be carried out in both NICU and whole-body MRI systems. A mock incubator will also be constructed for evaluation. This mock incubator will have all the internal components needed to support a neonate during scanning to create a realistic platform for evaluating acoustic noise, but will not include subsystems for thermal and humidity management. The impact of design choices for the incubator walls and access ports on the ingress of acoustic noise will be evaluated. At the end of this Phase I project, a prototype coil and incubator will have been constructed and optimal design elements and critical design requirements for product versions of the coil and incubator will be identified. Successful completion of this Phase I project will place the research team in an excellent position to develop product quiet coils and incubators in Phase II. Once Phase I and II are fully realized, MR scanning of non-sedated, swaddled sleeping infants will become possible without inducing physiologic stress, and without the need to rely on hearing protection. Integrating these elements will advance MRI technology for neonates, improve the clinical care of premature babies, and enable new research metrics for studying early human development. Furthermore, we believe that the technical innovations in this project, although targeted at neonatal imaging, will also prove useful in conventional adult-sized MR scanners. The quiet RF coil approach in particular holds promise for substantial reduction of acoustic noise without any impact on imaging protocols or performance.
This project will develop new technology that will substantially reduce the acoustic noise experienced by premature babies undergoing Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The ability to scan a sleeping premature baby without hearing protection minimizes physiological stress and is expected to reduce the incidence of motion-induced artifacts. With the success of this project, a neonate's small size will no longer put him/her at a disadvantage when it comes to MR, but instead will enable MR imaging beyond what is possible in an adult scanner.