The most powerful MRI device of its kind approved for patient use is now operational at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, offering Carle Illinois College of Medicine students unique opportunities to contribute to cutting-edge research, aimed at advancing biomedical knowledge and improving patient care.

Carle is one of only a few hospitals in the country and the first in Illinois to acquire a Siemens Healthineers MAGNETOM Terra 7 Tesla (7T) MRI scanner for both clinical and research use, in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The 7T is an evolution in MRI technology with the potential to revolutionize patient care. It produces exceptionally clear images of parts of the body that are hard to visualize with traditional MRI, including the brain and knee. Researchers will leverage 7T’s advanced images to study conditions like traumatic brain injury, depression, stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. The research may advance understanding, detection, and treatment of these complex medical problems.

7T also offers Carle Illinois medical students a unique and valuable learning experience. “There are fewer than 10 of these approved for clinical use in the United States, so 99% of medical students won’t have access to this,” said Carle Illinois professor Dr. Paul Arnold, associate medical director of the Carle Neuroscience Institute.

7T research is in its early stages of use at Carle, but medical students are already involved on four research teams using the new technology to study stroke resulting from bleeding on the brain, ketamine drug therapy for depression, and imaging of the eye and of the brain following traumatic injury.

First-year student Jordan Marsh is working with Dr. Michael Tsipursky’s team conducting research of the retina. “With only a handful of 7T scanners available across the country, I wanted to get my hands on it,” said Marsh. “With its extremely high resolution, we will be able to see things that likely have never been seen. This could lead to better treatment options for patients,” said Marsh.

Student Suzy Kwok joined a research team led by Dr. Sheeba Arnold, clinical investigator at the Carle Illinois Advanced Imaging Center. The team is using 7T to study traumatic brain injury, a problem affecting 5.3 million Americans and a leading cause of death and disability. “As a student who’s interested in small structures in the brain stem and cerebellum, this advancement in technology is exciting,” said Kwok. Having previously worked with other, lower-power MRI technology, Kwok welcomes the advances that the 7 Tesla MRI scanner affords. “For me, having access to a new tool really helps drive more research questions and revisit questions with a new lens,” said Kwok.

Carle Illinois students will also have opportunities to contribute to larger research projects for years to come. Through the support of the Stephens Family Clinical Research Institute, Carle is undertaking a multi-decade project that will collect neuroimaging studies of some 240 adults in Champaign-Urbana, building a large database of neurological data that can be tapped to advance patient care.

The Carle Illinois Advanced Imaging Center, where 7T is housed, was formed through a partnership of the Stephens Family Clinical Research Institute at Carle Health, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and UIUC.

Students interested in taking part in 7 Tesla MRI scanner research may contact Bruce Damon at Carle Health for information on available projects.