The National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), a research institution of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), has installed an ultra-high-field 7-tesla MRI system. This new MRI scanner will be able to obtain high-precision visual data about the anatomy and function of the brain in a non-invasive manner, including cerebral microstructure, advanced cognitive activity, and neural metabolite dynamics.
These types of information are important for elucidating the higher-order functions of the human brain. Around the world, approximately 50 ultra-high-field 7-tesla MRI machines are in operation, including three in Japan. This most advanced class of MRI is expected to expand the horizon of in vivo human research. This equipment will help accelerate the analysis of higher cerebral function through integrated analysis of biological activity and anatomy.
The ultra-high-field 7-tesla MRI has a two- to five-fold greater magnetic field strength than common hospital MRIs used for diagnostic purposes. The more powerful the magnetic field, the higher the biological signal sensitivity of MRI, resulting in more precise images with higher contrast. We anticipate that this advanced MRI system will enable analysis of cerebral microstructure on the order of 100 microns, visualization of clinically important microvessels, and three-dimensional reconstruction of complex neuronal networks. In addition, this MRI system will help monitor the dynamics of neural metabolites, cerebral blood flow, oxygen transport, and energy metabolism.
To generate its powerful magnetic field, the new MRI system uses a novel type of superconducting magnet: an actively shielded magnet, a first of its kind to be used for human research in Japan. This new type of magnet can minimize the release of magnetic energy from the system, contributing to both safety and accuracy of measurement.
The new 7-tesla MRI machine will provide the basis for a new ultra-high-resolution imaging system, which will be used to analyze brain anatomy and function in humans and other primates. In addition, the visualized biological information that will be derived from the new MRI equipment will help integrate life science and clinical medicine, thereby advancing human biology and facilitating the understanding of the human body as a biological system. The resultant research findings will help clinicians to explore pathologies and develop cures for psychiatric and other disorders.
Taking advantage of the arrival of the cutting-edge MRI system, NIPS has launched the Interactive Research Promotion Committee, which includes representatives from other ultra-high-field MRI research centers in Japan: Iwate Medical University Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Niigata University Brain Research Institute, Kyoto University Human Brain Research Center, Center for Information and Neural Networks of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, and National Institute for Environmental Studies.
As part of its mission as an inter-university research institute aimed at providing a core research platform for joint research activities, NIPS will strengthen the technical foundation for ultra-high-field MRI research, foster interdisciplinary research in MRI, promote international collaboration with overseas research institutes, and accelerate joint activities with national and international colleges and research organizations.