World’s Most Powerful MRI Scanner Unveils Unseen Images of Human Brain

The world’s most powerful MRI scanner has taken its first pictures of human brains, aiming to reveal more about how our brains work and the illnesses they can get. In France, at the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), they’ve been using this scanner, called Iseult, for research since 2021. But now, they’ve got permission to use it on people.

Around 20 healthy volunteers have already had their brains scanned in this huge MRI machine, which is located in an area called Plateau de Saclay, south of Paris. The MRI machine at CEA is really powerful, with a magnetic field strength of 11.7 teslas. That’s much stronger than the MRIs usually found in hospitals, which are usually around three teslas.

Scientists say this extra strength lets them see tiny blood vessels in the brain and details in parts like the cerebellum, which they couldn’t see before.

France’s research minister, Sylvie Retailleau, who’s also a physicist, says the precision of the scanner is amazing and will help doctors find and treat brain diseases better. The scanner is housed in a big cylinder, five meters long and tall. People have to slide into it through a three-foot opening.

It took engineers from France and Germany two decades to design this machine. Other countries like the United States and South Korea are also working on powerful MRI machines, but they’re not ready to scan humans yet.

One of the main reasons for using such a powerful scanner is to learn more about how our brains work. Scientists have already found out that when we recognize things like faces or words, different parts of our brains become active.

Using Iseult, they hope to understand more about diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as well as mental health conditions like depression and schizophrenia. They also want to see how drugs like lithium, which are used to treat bipolar disorder, work in the brain. But for now, the scanner won’t be used for diagnosing illnesses in regular patients. It’s mainly for research.

In the coming months, more volunteers will have their brains scanned. But it will be many years before doctors can use this machine to help patients with brain problems.