G.E. Healthcare partners with Tesla on 7T MRI research scanners

G.E. Healthcare, Buckinghamshire, U.K., announced a partnership with West Sussex, U.K.-based Tesla Engineering Ltd. on the development of a new 7T whole-body MRI scanner.

The partnership will build on GE’s 10-year history of producing 7T MRI scanners, currently deployed in the U.S., Italy and Japan for medical and scientific research, primarily in morphological and functional imaging of the brain. In the U.S., G.E. has three 7T scanners installed, one each at Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Don’t expect to see the new partnership produce clinical models available in Chicago at the RSNA. “In terms of routine and clinical scanners, we do all of the design and manufacturing,” explains Baldev Ahluwalia, premium MR market segment manager, speaking from Milan, Italy, where the announcement was made during the joint meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Medicine and the European Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and Biology. “This is a special research unit and investigational device; we are partnering with Tesla to push the limits on what this system can do.”

Tesla Engineering Ltd., no relationship to the high-end electric vehicle manufacturer, designs and manufactures resistive and superconducting electromagnets for science, medicine and industry. It is currently building a new factory in Storrington, U.K., to manufacture the 7 T magnets, the first of which is earmarked for G.E., delivery late 2015.

“The G.E. 7T community in the U.S., Europe and Asia already has demonstrated breakthrough observations and understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury and cognitive physiology,” said Richard Hausmann, president and CEO of GE Healthcare, MR, in a prepared statement. “Together we will continue to push the frontiers of MRI for neuroscience and other applications.”

Said Mike Begg, group managing director, Tesla Engineering: “This is a solid business opportunity for us that complements and builds upon our existing strengths in superconducting magnet technology, as well as our strong core technology positions in cryogenics.”

From a commercial standpoint, Ahluwalia says it’s a stretch to envision a time when 7T magnets would be widely deployed in the market given resource constraints in healthcare. Nonetheless, the new partnership creates the potential to migrate ideas and innovation into more conventional 1.5T and 3T scanners.

“Once you understand the issue at hand, you can then migrate that understanding and optimize a less costly tool to potentially diagnose with the same clarity,” he said. “I’m not saying we can guarantee to be able to do that, but by sharing the technology throughout our portfolio it allows us to migrate those innovations relatively quickly from one field strength to the other.”