Alex Taranto

Yale New Haven Hospital is testing a portable MRI system to increase accessibility and reduce cost.

The device, developed by YNHH doctors and Connecticut-based company Hyperfine Research, brings radiology to the bedside and makes the technology cheaper to obtain. Traditionally, MRI systems cost between $2 and 3 million, but the new device will only cost roughly $50,000, according to Jonathan Rothberg, founder and chair of Hyperfine Research.

“Every day we wake up, and we’re happy to be in New Haven, but that’s the luck of our birth,” Rothberg said. “There are 4 billion people that have no access to medical imaging … the goal of Hyperfine is to have access [to medical imaging] anywhere in the globe where someone needs it.”

Traditional MRI systems are large tube-shaped devices that rotate around the patient’s body to capture images of their organs and tissues. They are used for clarifying and providing more accurate diagnoses. Though MRIs have commercially been in use since the early 1980s, they are expensive and generally exclusive to hospital settings, according to School of Medicine professor Kevin Sheth, who is spearheading the collaboration.

Sheth said that traditional MRIs need a strong magnetic field to produce images, so they are used in specialized facilities separate from patients’ rooms. In addition, MRIs typically require technicians, ample electricity and cooling specifications, according to Sheth.

“We have been working to develop something that flips the whole story on its head,” said Sheth.

By using a weak magnet, the portable MRI device sidesteps the safety concerns caused by larger MRI systems and thus can be transported to the patient. Though a weaker magnet would lead to lower-resolution images, the portable device compensates by taking advantage of green technology, large-scale integration with specialized circuits and a 10-millionfold improvement in computing power with deep learning to improve image quality, Rothberg said.

“We have a prototype and it’s been the first time in the world where it has been deployed in a clinical setting, where it has been brought to a patient’s bedside,” said Sheth.

According to Sheth, the goal of implementing the device is to increase accessibility of MRIs beyond typical health care settings while retaining sufficient image resolution to still be clinically meaningful. He said it could potentially service patients in third world countries.

Rothberg said he is looking to collaborate with the Gates Foundation to distribute the portal MRIs worldwide, including underdeveloped countries. He aims to model this project after one of his other companies, Butterfly, which built a low-cost ultrasound and worked with the Gates Foundation to distribute the technology in 50 low-resource countries.

“The motivation is to democratize medical imaging,” Rotherberg said.

In addition, the portable MRI device will allow surgeons to see inside a patient’s body while performing operations, making them safer and more efficient.

Hyperfine plans to attend the American College of Emergency Physicians 2019 Meeting in Denver, Colorado, held between Oct. 27 and 30.

Katherine Du | katherine.du@yale.edu

Correction, Oct. 22: A previous version of this story carried the headline “Portable MRI device developed by Yale faculty members in testing.” The device was not developed by Yale faculty, but has been tested at Yale. The headline has been updated to reflect this.