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Inflatable MRI Scanner

King’s College London has become the first London university to acquire an inflatable MRI scanner to help children overcome their anxiety and practice lying still for 30 minutes before they enter a real MRI scanner. The custom-made inflatable, designed to look identical to the 3T Philips scanner used by the Perinatal Imaging team at King’s, cost £3,000 – a tenth of the cost of the shell of an old MRI scanner currently used by some organisations to acclimatise children to brain imaging. 

The team are launching a study in January 2015 to explore the long-term effects of premature birth on the brain. They plan to scan 60 eight-year-old children (30 born prematurely and 30 born at term) to see if there are any differences in how the brain network develops over time. Preterm babies are at greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems, but not much is known about why they develop these impairments or how we can help them. 

The research team in the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering at King’s includes PhD student Anita Montagna (pictured) who is piloting part of the study at the Science Museum’s Live Science experiment. “Imaging children’s brains can be difficult – some children may feel nervous in a real scanner, and many also find it difficult to stay still for long periods. When children move during scanning, this distorts the images. We hope that letting children play in a mock scanner will make them more comfortable in a real one” Anita says.

Lead academic Professor David Edwards from King’s College London says: “The more information we can gather on children’s brains, the better we can understand how to treat problems with brain development”.