MRI space shuttle
The MRI Space Shuttle addressed the challenges of scanningyoung children and vulnerable populations by transformingthe MRI experience through the creation of an appealing,child-friendly environment.
A team from the Department of Forensic & Neurodevelopment Sciences collaborated with puppet makers Folded Feather to transform the stark medical environment of the MRI scanner into a more appealing space: by dressing it up as a cartoon spaceship. The MRI Space Shuttle creates a friendly and more productive environment for taking MRI scans of young children and vulnerable populations, including individuals with severe autism or intellectual disabilities.
Taking an MRI scan of young children or vulnerable populations poses serious challenges. The loud noises and confined space within the scanner are frightening and young children can find it hard to lie still for the duration of the scan. Conventional methods of dealing with this, such as sedation, are not always possible or appropriate. By transforming the MRI scanner into something both recognisable and friendly, the team aimed to reduce anxiety and create a more enjoyable experience, resulting in better outcomes for both patients and clinicians.
King’s researchers first tested the MRI Space Shuttle concept with young children. The team worked with Oliver Smart, a creative designer experienced in making transportable stage sets and engaging with children through puppetry. Children were prepared for their brain scan using a mock MRI tent and introduced to a set of soft toys called ‘space friends’ who could join them on their journey as ‘space explorers’. A film played cartoons that explained how the children should keep still during their space ‘mission’ and gradually introduced them to the distinctive noise of the scanner.
Following this project, the MRI Space Shuttle team secured funds from the Sackler Foundation to create a puppet film, Pip and the Brain Explorers, that explains what happens during brains scans in a way that is accessible and appealing to children.
We hope that transportable, child-friendly MRI kits can be used more widely both in research and clinical settings to reduce anxiety and make the MRI experience more enjoyable for young children, as wellas their parents.
Dr Eva Loth, academic lead
At Folded Feather our approach was to view the MRI environment as an immersive theatrical experience for each child undergoing a scan. The colourful and multi textural design of the screen and its space-themed characters transforms this unfamiliar and frightening situation into one of joy, exploration and colour.
Oliver Smart, artistic lead
I felt comfortable for Elias to have an MRI scan for this study because everything was explained clearly to me. Similarly, Elias felt safe and secure because he could have a mock scan first. He loved the spaceship tent and that he could take a space friend with him in the scanner. There was a story around the MRI scan, which I thought was really good and helped him.
Project participant Elias’s mum
Dr Eva Loth, Academic lead and lecturer in the Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.
The cultural partner was Folded Feather, led by Oliver Smart, Director and Designer/Maker.
The project also includes Post Doctoral Researchers Dr Jumana Ahmad, Dr Antonia San Jose Caceres and designer/maker Nerea Villares, Folded Feather.
MRI Space Shuttle is a collaboration between King's College London's Department of Forensic & Neurodevelopmental Sciences and creative designers Folded Feather, brokered. It was supported by the university's Culture team.