From the September 2018 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
By Liberty Franks
The use of printing for MR coils makes them flexible and tailored to the size of each patient.
Long exam times, patient discomfort and claustrophobia are major issues in the MR suite that result in delays, failed exams and ultimately affect the bottom line. Novel printed, flexible coils could be the solution that hospitals and other MR operators are searching for to achieve good exam outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and reduce costs.
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Patients come to the MR suite in all sizes, shapes and physical conditions, yet currently they must all fit in the same narrow bore and wear the same coils. While making the bore wider is the task of scanner manufacturers, InkSpace Imaging, a Berkeley-based startup, uses printed electronics to make tailored coils that are extremely comfortable, to fit patients perfectly. InkSpace believes that MR coils themselves are a major cause of the challenges in MR use and outcomes.
“Traditional coils are bulky, heavy and expensive,” said Michael Lustig and Ana Claudia Arias, co-founders of InkSpace Imaging and professors at UC Berkeley . “They are designed as one-size-fits-all, so they often do not fit the patient properly.” This issue is responsible for heightened patient discomfort and lower image quality. Research from the Lustig and Arias’ groups at UC Berkeley has shown that a distance of only one inch (2.5 cm) between the coil and the patient can result in a decrease of more than 20% of image signal to noise ratio.
The founders of InkSpace came together with combined decades of industry and academic experience in both MR and printed electronics and the conviction that MR scanning of patients as we know it could be radically improved. At the heart of their patented technology is screen-printing, a relatively simple, thousand-year-old printing process, commonly used to print patterned T-shirts.
By using conductive inks, InkSpace can print the coils’ electric circuit on thin, flexible substrates, resulting in lightweight, blanket-like arrays that are each inexpensive to make. The printed blanket coils are then attached to a cable containing the conventional circuitry needed to interface with the scanner. With their printing technology, InkSpace’s solution consists of a collection of flexible, blanket-like coils, tailored to fit each patient size perfectly, for the same price as a single one of today’s coils.
The flexibility allows the coils to fit snug to the patient’s body, thus improving image quality, and the thin, light feel is particularly important for patient comfort.