While MRI scans may not expose patients to the ionizing radiation found in X-rays, they still are potentially harmful. This is because the increased radiofrequency energy absorption associated with newer high-field and ultra-high-field MRI scanners can heat body tissue. Thanks to research being conducted at the Australian National University, however, that may soon no longer be an issue – additionally, scans could be quicker and produce higher-quality images.

The ANU scientist found that by placing ultrathin metallic resonators beneath the patient, they were able to suppress the electrical fields responsible for tissue heating.

Additionally, by redistributing the electromagnetic near fields, the researchers doubled the signal-to-noise ratio. This means that higher-resolution images could be obtained within the same amount of time – conversely, regular-resolution images could also be captured in less time than is presently possible. This means that patients wouldn't have to lie perfectly still within the scanner for as long, and that wait times could be reduced.

Made from metamaterials, which are "smart materials engineered to have properties that have not yet been found in nature," the inexpensive resonators can be used with existing MRI scanners of all types. That said, the university has partnered with medical tech company Mediwise to produce a line of scanners with the technology already built-in.

The scientists are also looking at integrating the metamaterial into clothing that could be worn by patients undergoing MRI scans.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.