GE Silent Scan turns down the volume on MRI scanners

GE Silent Scan turns down the volume on MRI scanners
GE's new Silent Scan technology is designed to significantly decrease noise during MRI scans
GE's new Silent Scan technology is designed to significantly decrease noise during MRI scans
View 2 Images
A modern three Tesla MRI scanner (Photo: Kasuga Huang)
A modern three Tesla MRI scanner (Photo: Kasuga Huang)
GE's new Silent Scan technology is designed to significantly decrease noise during MRI scans
GE's new Silent Scan technology is designed to significantly decrease noise during MRI scans

GE Healthcare has introduced a new data acquisition technology designed to improve patient comfort by largely eliminating the horrible noise generated during an MRI scan. Conventional MRI scanners can generate noise levels in excess of 110 dBA (creating a din that sounds like a cross between a vehicle's reverse warning horn and a Star Trek phaser) but GE says its new Silent Scan MRI technology can reduce this to just above background noise levels in the exam room.

The noise that MRI scanners produce is related to changes in the magnetic field that allow the slice by slice body scan to be carried out. In recent years, industry efforts to speed up the scanning process have also resulted in louder and louder scans. The designers have attempted to dampen these noises with mufflers and baffles, achieving only limited success.

Silent Scan is achieved through two new developments. First, acoustic noise is essentially eliminated by using a new 3D scanning and reconstruction technique called Silenz. When the Silenz protocol is used in combination with GE's new high-fidelity MRI gradient and RF system electronics, the MRI scanning noise is largely eliminated at its source.

At the 2012 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, an MRI system compatible with the Silent Scan technology was linked into a soundproof room. When the MRI system used conventional scanning methods, a staccato, stuttering racket with noise peaks up to 110 dBA was heard. However, when Silent Scan was switched on, the noise level dropped to 76 dBA, just above the background noise of the MRI electronics. This is accomplished without substantial trade-offs in scanning time or image quality, according to Richard Hausmann, president and CEO, GE Healthcare MR. The comparison is shown in this video.

Silent Scan technology has not yet obtained 510k Premarketing Notification clearance from the FDA, so it's not yet available for sale. GE is presumably hoping for a decision that Silent Scan is "substantially equivalent" to existing MRI scanners, a result that would greatly simplify the new technology's entry into the diagnostic market.

Source: GE Healthcare

Joel Detrow
I am a big fan of this! With any luck, this could make MRI scans more commonplace!
Seriously, why do many doctors just assign CT scans and never even mention MRI when it's just BETTER for rendering flesh? They often don't even offer the patient a choice!
Bruce H. Anderson
I would refer to the noise as more like a cross between a stalled electric motor and a jackhammer, but hey, de gustibus. Still, it is a lot of noise (it would probably spank some Bose headphones) and can be a bit unnerving for nervous types and small children. A welcome improvement.
Now if they could just make the donut hole bigger - they have to knock me out to get me into one of them. . . {{shiver}}
@ Joel Detrow. You are correct, MRI is superior in the imaging of soft tissues. However it is not as good at imaging dense anataomy such as bones. It also takes an average of greater than 20 Minutes for any given scan. This precludes it from emergency medicine where a Doctor needs to know about any life threatening injuries as soon as possible. Because of a CT's fast imaging acquisition they can also be used for procedures such as where the patient has a degenerative bone condition and they a need treatments such as injecting plastic into the spine to reinforce the vertibrae. The CT can provide multiple, rapid acquisitions so the surgeon knows they are putting the plastic in the right place. MRI scanners also cost substantially more to buy and run. This means an MRI scan is dearer than a CT. Modern high-resolution MRIs need liquid Helium to super-cool the coil which forms the high tesla magnet. Helium is not only expensive, but known reserves are being rapidly depleted. This makes the future or MRI in it's current form uncertain. Because MRIs are a super-magnet, they cannot be used for a wide variety of patients. Those that have metallic implants and pace-makers among others. There are far less MRI scanners when compared to CTs so it would simply be impossible to have all routine CT scans changed to MRI. So as you can see, it's not as simple as just offering a patient the choice or CT or MRI. A doctor has a lot to consider when choosing what type of imaging modality to select.
Derek Howe
@ socal boomer - I assume you say that because you're claustrophobic...well, you do know you could always go to a place with an upright MRI...dont you? Those ones you can stand/sit/lay, and you won't feel as trapped.
Toshiba has had noise reduction for about 15 years that's hardware based and on for every sequence without compromise to image quality. The techniques the GE and Seimens utilize are software based, and dependent upon the sequence. It remains to be show that there will be no impact on image quality. Also, they can't use it on DWI (the loudest sequence. Side note: get medicated and have an MRI on a superconducting magnet. The "stand up" magnets are unable to show many things, which is why we have seen a drastic change in the industry, and most open magnets will be gone in the near future.
There are more and more "zero boil off" magnets, thus decreasing the helium usage. Also keep in mind, a routine brain only a few years ago took 30 to 45 mins of scan time... Now it's down to 9 to 12 mins. MRI and its potential is limitless. It's important to keep in mind with the new dose tracking guidelines for CT, MRI is the safer alternative. A CT of the chest is like getting 300 chest X-rays, a lot of radiation. Most metal implant are compatible at 1.5T (but should still be researched for safety), and there are MR comparable pace makers now... It's the future of imaging. (There's been a helium shortage for the past 10 years, but in those years, more and more MR exams have been done).