In 2011 we launched a campaign to raise £1.5 million to buy a brand new MRI scanner and in 2014 we reached our target. The MRI scanner is now in place, and this phenomenal bit of kit is a vital addition to the radiology department.

What is an MRI scanner?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.

An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan.

An MRI scan can be used to examine almost any part of the body, including the:

  • Brain and spinal cord
  • Bones and joints
  • Heart and blood vessels
  • Internal organs, such as the liver, womb or prostate gland

The results of an MRI scan can be used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective previous treatment has been.

How do they work?

Most of the human body is made up of water molecules, which consist of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. At the centre of each hydrogen atom there is an even smaller particle called a proton. Protons are like tiny magnets and are very sensitive to magnetic fields.

When you lie under the powerful magnet of the MRI scanner, the protons in your body line up in the same direction, in the same way that a magnet can pull the needle of a compass.
Short bursts of radio waves are then sent to certain areas of the body, knocking the protons out of alignment. When the radio waves are turned off, the protons realign and in doing so send out radio signals, which are picked up by receivers.

These signals provide information about the exact location of the protons in the body. They also help to distinguish between the various types of tissue in the body, because the protons in different types of tissue realign at different speeds and produce distinct signals.

In the same way that millions of pixels on a computer screen can create complex pictures, the signals from the millions of protons in the body are combined to create a detailed image of the inside of the body.

What’s so special about this MRI scanner?

This MRI scanner has been engineered with a shorter bore (tunnel) and wider aperture to increase the space around the patient and therefore reduce anxiety. To support this, a series of mirrors and microphones ensure that the patient does not feel alone. In addition there are electrical “hook ups” where the patient’s own media device (such as an IPod) can be connected and played in the scanner during the procedure.

In addition, the new MRI treatment room has been specifically designed to improve patient experience. There is a little more time put aside for each patient to ensure they are comfortable with the scanner and we use a variety of tools to promote engagement with the procedure with help from skilled play therapists.