Some fifteen years ago, nuclear spin tomography was introduced in Germany as a revolutionary method of diagnostic medical imaging. On the occasion of the Medica 98 Forum last November, the latest product in this discipline was showcased in Düsseldorf to the professional health care public, as a fully open-sided unit. The patient no longer will experience any claustrophobic fear nor feelings of stress like before, because he found himself locked in a narrow "tube". The newly designed family of nuclear spin tomographs has the aspect of a Grecian temple, a magical place for meditation as it seems, which can equally be applied for image-aided surgical interventions.
In its relatively short career, nuclear spin tomography has been awarded five Nobel prizes. Today, innovative adjustments to the equipment transform the technology into a serious rival for X-ray imaging in different medical specialities. The primary applications relate to the mapping of brain diseases and tumours. Each third nuclear spin tomograph concentrates on this complex area, followed by spinal imaging. Twenty percent of all medical examinations are performed on the muscles and skeleton. The most popular organs within nuclear spin tomography are the womb, prostate, gland and bladder. In the past, this modality was reserved for the detailed imaging of anatomical structures but nowadays, it is also possible to capture functional processes, such as haemorrhaging and blood circulation.
Unlike X-rays, the use of nuclear spin tomography causes no negative side effects, since the imaging is performed via magnetic fields and radio waves. Nonetheless, patients tend to suffer from stress, induced by claustrophobia, while lying in the tight-fitting investigation "tube" of the imaging equipment. As a result, designers already have experimented with half-open versions to deal with this problem of psychic and emotional strain. The most recent development in nuclear spin tomography production, as premiered at Medica 98, presented a total "free range" magnetic system. For the first time, the physician will be able to monitor the patient's body in a fully open-sided setting consisting of two magnetic "millstones" on four columns.
Particularly child patients are bound to benefit from this friendly approach. The once slightly threatening appearance of the nuclear spin tomograph has been changed into the inviting structure of a Grecian temple. In addition to the imaginative factor, the open architecture of the device also has a useful, functional aspect. The surgeon is able to carry out image-aided operations, such as the opening up of constricted blood vessels, on the spot. This kind of intervention is unthinkable in a tunnel-shaped nuclear spin tomograph. One thing ought to be done about the interference of the strong magnetic field with the surgical instruments though, to avoid the "magical" attraction for metals in the sanctuary of the Grecian temple.