U now home to world’s largest animal imaging magnet

World’s largest full-body human magnet and animal imaging magnet will cost the University more than $20 million.

Cody Vanasse

The University of Minnesota became home to the worldâÄôs largest animal imaging magnet Wednesday and is continuing to make preparations for the arrival of the worldâÄôs largest full-body human imaging magnet, expected to arrive sometime next summer. The imaging magnets, both built by manufacturer Varian Medical Systems, cost around $10 million each, Dr. Tommy Vaughan, director of the Engineering Core for the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, said. The 50-ton animal imaging magnet is a 16.4 Tesla, 164,000 times stronger than the EarthâÄôs magnetic field and more than three times the strength of normal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines found in clinics. The human imaging magnet will be 10.5 Tesla. âÄúWith the more powerful magnets, we get a stronger signal and better image quality faster,âÄù Vaughan said. The animal imaging magnet was brought to campus Wednesday morning via a giant crane, Academic Health Center spokesman Nicholas Hansen said. The animal imaging magnet will be used by University researchers to look at small mammals, primarily mice and rats, to observe internal anatomy and biochemistry of organs and, more specifically, metabolisms. The animals used are not harmed, Vaughan said. Observing the behavioral and neurological effects on animals from chronic magnetic exposure will help the University identify potential problems with human exposure to strong magnetic fields. Expansions to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research building broke ground in August to make room for the incoming University-commissioned human imaging magnet. Vaughan said the University intends to use these stronger instruments for a better MRI, which provides internal images. It will also use them for a better Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), which allows measurement of metabolisms, and better Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), a type of imaging that can be used for mapping brain activity to provide more insight on how the brain works. Key organs the University hopes to focus on with the magnets include the brain, heart, breasts, prostate and muscular and skeletal systems. VaughanâÄôs engineering core is developing new techniques and methods to use with the new magnetic imaging instruments. Vaughan hopes researchers can use these techniques along with the powerful imaging magnets to make advancements in clinical applications, including less intrusive mammogram procedures, investigating AlzheimerâÄôs plaques and measuring the degree of damage in stroke tissue. University researcher Jianyi Zhang anticipates that the imaging magnets will bring his research, which involves examining the heart after a heart attack, to a new level. âÄúWith the higher magnetic field we can separate the more vulnerable inner chamber of the heart from the outer chamber and examine myocardial infarction effects separately,âÄù Zhang said. âÄúNo other institution in the world has this technology.âÄù âÄúItâÄôs very probable that with the benefits of what we can get with these higher magnetic fields, we will see new clinical diagnoses made in hospitals,âÄù Vaughan said, citing the usage of more powerful imaging magnets to observe internal biochemistry of multiple organs virtually instantly. âÄúWeâÄôre applying the most powerful technology in the world to fundamental science.âÄù