The impact of collaboration: MRI case study

Michael L. Wood

          Michael L. Wood
NYGH Director of Research and Innovation, lead author

More than 35 years since its creation, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) continues to grow. It is a prime example of how an interdisciplinary approach can keep a technology relevant and adaptable.

A review published in Investigative Radiology tracked the evolution and future direction of MRI, a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of organs and tissues. It highlights how the technology has benefited from collaboration between disciplines and between academia and industry. “Even after 35 years, MRI keeps on growing as an important diagnostic tool, with ever-increasing novel applications” says Michael Wood, Director of Research and Innovation at North York General Hospital and the article's lead author. “The development of MRI is a model of what we can achieve if we seek solutions to challenges in health care through different lenses.”

In the paper, Michael and his colleagues reveal how MRI burst into clinical use with remarkable speed largely due to collaboration between academic physicists, engineers, chemists, biologists and their counterparts in industry. “Both academic and industry contributed important expertise to turn MRI into a valuable diagnostic tool,” he says. “As far back as the 1980s, there was a real appetite for MRI research and a real awareness of its commercial potential.”
MRI at North York General Hospital
MRI at North York General Hospital

The industry/academia interdisciplinary approach isn't the only one that has kept MRI relevant. Different disciplines within the clinical realm found innovative uses for the technology – and it keeps on happening. “Psychologists can learn about how people actually think through interpretation of certain patterns in MRI images of the brain,” Michael says. “This is an example of introducing a technique to a new discipline and allowing them to see its potential through an entirely different lens. Great things can happen when you’re not bound by preconceived notions.”

Collaboration between engineers and computer experts also is helping to further MRI. At first, engineers pursued perfection with the hardware. “The magnetic field had to be exactly uniform to create images of the highest quality and so engineers spent their time fine-tuning the technology, which led to agonizing trade-offs,” explains Michael. “High performance computing is allowing some of these trade-offs to be reconsidered, which is incredibly promising for developers who have long been constrained with the long narrow drums in which patients must remain for a noisy 45 minutes while the images are collected. What if that doesn’t have to be the case?”

“The lesson here is that when we invite people with different perspectives to contribute to the solution, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

July 9, 2015