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Ultra-High Fields (UHF) Human MRI: Living Brain imaged with 11.7 Tesla MRI of Iseult Project  

Iseult Project’s 11.7 Tesla MRI machine has taken remarkable anatomical images of the live human brain from participants. This is the first study of live human brain by an MRI machine of such high magnetic field strength that has yielded images of 0.2 mm in-plane resolution and 1 mm slice thickness (representing a volume equivalent of a few thousand neurons) in a short acquisition time of just 4 minutes.  

The imaging of human brain at this unprecedented resolution by the Iseult MRI machine will enable researchers to uncover new structural and functional details of human brain which may shed light on how brain encodes mental representations or what are neuronal signatures of consciousness. New discoveries may help in diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This machine can also help in detection of chemical species involved in brain metabolism that cannot otherwise be detected by the MRI machines of lower magnetic field strength.  

This 11.7 Tesla MRI scanner of Iseult project is world’s most powerful human whole-body MRI machine and is installed at NeuroSpin at CEA-Paris-Saclay. It had delivered first images in 2021 when it scanned a pumpkin and provided images with a resolution of 400 microns in three dimensions which validated the process.  

In human MRI systems, magnetic field strengths at or above 7 Tesla is referred as Ultra-High Fields (UHF). 7 Tesla MRI scanners were approved in 2017 for brain and small joint imaging. There are over one hundred 7 T MRI machines in operation worldwide. Prior to the recent success of 11.7 Tesla MRI scanner of Iseult Project, 10.5 Tesla MRI at the University of Minnesota was the highest strength MRI machine in operation generating in vivo images.  

The French-German Iseult Project for building a 11.7 Tesla MRI scanner was launched by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in 2000s. The aim was to develop a ‘human brain explorer’. The project brought industrial and academic partners together and has taken two decades to come to fruition. It is a technological marvel and will revolutionise brain research. 

Progressing on, the German Ultrahigh Field Imaging (GUFI) network is working towards establishing a 14 Tesla whole-body human MRI system as a national research resource in Germany. 

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References:  

  1. The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), 2024. Press release – A world premiere: the living brain imaged with unrivaled clarity thanks to the world’s most powerful MRI machine. Published on 2 April 2024. Available at https://www.cea.fr/english/Pages/News/world-premiere-living-brain-imaged-with-unrivaled-clarity-thanks-to-world-most-powerful-MRI-machine.aspx 
  1. Boulant, N., Quettier, L. & the Iseult Consortium. Commissioning of the Iseult CEA 11.7 T whole-body MRI: current status, gradient–magnet interaction tests and first imaging experience. Magn Reson Mater Phy 36, 175–189 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10334-023-01063-5  
  1. Bihan D.L. and Schild T., 2017. Human brain MRI at 500 MHz, scientific perspectives and technological challenges. Superconductor Science and Technology, Volume 30, Number 3. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1088/1361-6668/30/3/033003  
  1. Ladd, M.E., Quick, H.H., Speck, O. et al. Germany’s journey toward 14 Tesla human magnetic resonance. Magn Reson Mater Phy 36, 191–210 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10334-023-01085-z  

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Umesh Prasad
Umesh Prasad
Science journalist | Founder editor, Scientific European magazine

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