Located on the Center for BrainHealth® campus of The University of Texas at Dallas, the BrainHealth Imaging Center is the first research-dedicated MRI system at a non-medical research university in North Texas, and one of a select few in the country.
It features two 3 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners, state-of-the-art equipment specifically optimized for the acquisition and interpretation of rich research data about the brain’s structure and function.
This facility will play a pivotal role in advancing our understanding of how to measure, monitor and harness the vast potential of our brains throughout life.
What is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?
MRI is a form of imaging that provides a non-invasive method of looking at structures inside the body. MRI uses a very strong constant magnetic field, weaker variable-strength magnetic fields, and radio frequency (RF) pulses. The RF pulses are similar to those transmitted by radio stations.
How does an MRI work?
MRI scanners interact with atoms in the body. Hydrogen atoms are most commonly used since our bodies contain a large amount of water and, therefore, hydrogen. The hydrogen atoms in your body normally spin in random directions, but most of them align and spin in the same direction when they are in the strong magnetic field inside the scanner. A computer manipulates the magnetic field and sends radio waves of certain frequencies at precise moments to cause the hydrogen atoms to produce an echo. Bone, blood, muscle, fat, fluid, etc. each emit unique signals which are read and processed by a computer to produce very accurate images of the body part being scanned.
Are MRI scans safe?
Yes, MRI is considered a safe form of imaging as there are no known lasting biological effects due to the magnetic fields or RF energy used. Some temporary may be experienced, such as dizziness, a metallic taste in the mouth or warmth during the scanning process.
MRI does not use ionizing radiation, so it does not share the biological risks of x-ray radiation used for x-ray films or Computed Tomography (CT/CAT) scans.
The chief safety concern with MRI involves most ferromagnetic (containing iron) items and electronic devices entering the strong magnetic field. People entering an MRI room should not wear or have on them anything electronic or containing iron. Certain items may be acceptable, but we must know what they are to determine their safety status.
How strong are the MRI magnets?
The magnetic field of MRI scanners is typically expressed in units of tesla (T). One tesla is equal to 10,000 gauss (G). The MRI scanners at the BrainHealth Imaging Center have field strengths of 3-tesla or 30,000 gauss. For reference: the earth’s magnetic field is approximately 0.5 gauss, so 3T scanners are approximately 60,000 times stronger; the strong electromagnets on cranes that are able to lift automobiles are approximately 1T, so 3T scanners are three times stronger!
The BrainHealth Imaging Center features two Siemens MAGNETOM Prisma MRI scanners. This state-of-the-art equipment is preferred by top brain scientists because it is specifically optimized for the acquisition and interpretation of rich research data about the brain’s structure and function.
How do you know if I’m safe to have an MRI scan?
When you arrive for your MRI scan, we perform a comprehensive safety screening. This includes completing a questionnaire where you’ll list any implanted items, devices or foreign bodies that you may have. That information will be reviewed with you by a trained MRI professional. They may ask additional questions or request documentation of certain implants. Please bring any implant identification cards with you. Please note that certain items that are considered safe in some MRI scanners may not be safe in others.
Since the magnetic field is so strong, some implants are sensitive enough to be affected just by walking into the room where the scanners located. For this reason, we must know about any implants so we can determine if you can safely have an MRI scan.
What can I expect when I go for my MRI scan?
Before entering the MRI room, you will need to remove your personal belongings such as hearing aids, jewelry, cell phone, credit cards, etc. and change into a gown. Lockers are provided for your clothing and belongings.
The process will be explained, and any questions you have will be answered. You will be provided with a call button to alert the scanner operator of any concerns that might come up during your scan, and there is an intercom to allow for communication. You will be monitored throughout your scan by the scanner operator.
Can I have an MRI if I have a pacemaker or other implant?
Many medical implants are acceptable for MRI scanning. Orthopedic hardware such as joint replacements, plates, nails and screws are typically safe.
Individuals with implanted cardiac pacemakers, ICDs (defibrillators), stimulators, pumps and other electronic devices may not be able to have MRI scans at the BrainHealth Imaging Center. While some recent models of these devices are classified as “MR-Conditional”, they typically involve significant time and resources to safely perform the scans. Also, our types of scanners will likely not meet the specific conditions required to be followed by the device manufacturers. MRI scanning of these devices is typically reserved for hospital settings and involves lower field strength magnets, physical interaction with a representative from the device manufacturer and monitoring by a medical doctor and/or Registered Nurse. Restrictions still apply if a device is still present but no longer active.
How long does an MRI scan take?
The time spent in the scanner varies depending on the study you’re participating in and how well you hold still and complete any tasks needed. Each study may have different tasks and procedures that will affect the length of the test.
Does my whole body have to go into the scanner to scan my brain?
The body part being scanned must be in the center of the scanner. When having your brain scanned, usually the upper half of your body will be inside the scanner and your legs will remain out.
Are the MRIs at the Center for BrainHealth used for medical diagnostic purposes?
No; the unique and exclusive focus at the BrainHealth Imaging Center is on measuring aspects of the brain that can be improved or maintained over time. Unlike the vast majority of imaging facilities in which magnetic resonance scanners are used primarily for diagnostic purposes related to injuries and disease, the BrainHealth Imaging Center was designed to uncover biomarkers of brain health, furthering brain health research and solutions. In fact, this is the first research-dedicated MRI system at a non-medical research university in North Texas, and one of a select few in the country.
I’m a UTD researcher. How can I schedule scans?
Send an email to BrainHealthImagingCenter@utdallas.edu.
I’m a researcher at another academic institution. Will I have access to use this Imaging Center?
While researchers affiliated with UTD will have the first priority, the BrainHealth Imaging Center will be made available to other brain researchers in the community.
How can I sign up to participate in a study?
Visit our Participate in a Study page to learn more.