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14-ton imaging magnet delivered to UT Health Science Center

San Antonio (Aug. 25, 2003) — A 28,000-pound, $3 million research instrument used in magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and MR spectroscopy arrived Aug. 25 at the Research Imaging Center, a world-renowned facility of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The Siemens 3-Tesla Trio system is the highest magnetic field strength approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical scans, although this system will be used primarily for research.

The MR system, which contains coils that generate a powerful magnetic field, will more than double the research capability of the Research Imaging Center (RIC), said Peter T. Fox, M.D., professor at the Health Science Center and director of the RIC. The new system is 70,000 times more powerful than the earth's magnetic field. Acquisition of the equipment is made possible by a $1.8 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health; $1 million from a special appropriation of Congress to the Texas Diabetes Institute, a partnership of the Health Science Center and the University Health System; and $200,000 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

"It opens very important horizons for us for research," Dr. Fox said. "It is a confirmation of the quality of work that has been done at the Research Imaging Center the past decade and it will be a huge magnet for recruiting outstanding scientists to the center. In the MR research community, this is the industry standard on which everyone wants to work."

Jia-Hong Gao, Ph.D., head of the RIC's magnetic resonance division, is the principal investigator on both the NIH and ONDCP grants. "This equipment is state of the art and will enable us to obtain images quickly and efficiently," he said. RIC faculty will be able to perform a much-broader array of programs to run the new magnet than they could on previous systems. The RIC and Siemens negotiated a research agreement that calls for Siemens engineers to program new capabilities into the magnet as they are developed.

The massive instrument, hooked to a winch, was hoisted off a tractor-trailer by a crane and set down beside an opening cut to specifications at the Health Science Center's Robert F. McDermott Clinical Science Building. The system was placed in a bay shielded on all sides with copper and sealed at the doors to shut out noise, enabling researchers to acquire the faintest radio signals emitted by research subjects. Expected to be operational within a month, the new system will be more powerful than the RIC's original MR system at detecting brain function and heart and circulation disorders.

The new system will be excellent for imaging soft tissue such as the heart, blood vessels, and gray and white brain matter, Dr. Gao said. It is a regional resource, open to Health Science Center researchers and scientists at other institutions in South Texas. Some of the many areas of ongoing work at the RIC include studies of schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson's disease, stuttering, Alzheimer's disease, lupus, epilepsy, stroke and drug addiction. The center's many collaborators include scientists from Hong Kong, Australia and the United States.

The RIC, dedicated in 1991, acquired a 2-Tesla magnet in 1993. The center also operates a positron emission tomography (PET) system and other technologies. RIC faculty members have produced hundreds of papers in the leading scientific journals. The original magnet will be used for studies that do not require the research capability of the new 3-Tesla magnet.

The magnet was built in Oxford, England, and shipped to Erlangen, Germany, where the electronics were manufactured. The system was assembled and tested at Erlangen, then shipped to Houston, where it was transferred to the tractor-trailer for the trip to San Antonio. The unit containing the magnet and electronics is a square roughly 8 feet wide and high. The table, where subjects lie down to be moved into the unit for testing, extends 7 feet from the unit.

Contact: Will Sansom