Background: Transporting premature infants from a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to a radiology department for MRI has medical risks and logistical challenges.
Objective: To develop a small 1.5-T MRI system for neonatal imaging that can be easily installed in the NICU and to evaluate its performance using a sheep model of human prematurity.
Materials and methods: A 1.5-T MRI system designed for orthopedic use was adapted for neonatal imaging. The system was used for MRI examinations of the brain, chest and abdomen in 12 premature lambs during the first hours of life. Spin-echo, fast spin-echo and gradient-echo MR images were evaluated by two pediatric radiologists.
Results: All animals remained physiologically stable throughout the imaging sessions. Animals were imaged at two or three time points. Seven brain MRI examinations were performed in seven different animals, 23 chest examinations in 12 animals and 19 abdominal examinations in 11 animals. At each anatomical location, high-quality images demonstrating good spatial resolution, signal-to-noise ratio and tissue contrast were routinely obtained within 30 min using standard clinical protocols.
Conclusion: Our preliminary experience demonstrates the feasibility and potential of the neonatal MRI system to provide state-of-the-art MRI capabilities within the NICU. Advantages include overall reduced cost and site demands, lower acoustic noise, improved ease of access and reduced medical risk to the neonate.