An incubator suitable for MRI scans

Interview with Nina Friedrich, Marketing Communications Manager, LMT Medical Systems GmbH

Every little thing can be a matter of life or death for premature babies. That is why the right diagnosis plays an extremely important role. This includes examining infants with an MRI scan. Until now, sliding premature babies into an MRI scanner without an incubator was only possible to a limited degree. Now this problem could be solved.


Photo: Smiling young woman with glasses and short blonde hair - Nina Friedrich; Copyright: LMT Medical Systems GmbH

Nina Friedrich; ©LMT Medical Systems GmbH

In this interview with, Nina Friedrich discusses the special features of the MR Diagnostics Incubator System nomag® IC and the important design aspects of the machine.

Mrs. Friedrich, when do MRI scans make sense for premature babies?

Nina Friedrich: In the case of non-specific symptoms exhibited by the patient or to determine the cause of seizures. Thanks to an MRI scan, a physician is able to determine whether there is a brain hemorrhage for example. MRI images are extremely accurate so that details such as the bleeding source or tissue irritation can be detected. Diffusion weighted MR imaging can deliver a possible prognosis after a lack of oxygen during delivery and provide conclusions pertaining to the neural tracts in the brain for example.

Since the MRI scan is radiation-free for the most part and delivers very detailed images of the brain, for example, it is especially popular with pediatricians.

Why has it been so difficult until now to perform this type of MRI scan? What could happen in the MRI scanner without an incubator?

Friedrich: It is important for a premature baby to remain within the atmosphere of the incubator or rather the neonatal incubator inside the neonatal intensive care unit. But you cannot slide these machines into an MRI scanner since they are magnetic and would otherwise be pulled into the magnetic field of the tomograph. The incubator would simply get stuck in the MRI machine. To avoid this danger, the machines need to be designed so they are not pulled in while the electronic system of the incubator continues to run inside the magnetic field generated by the CT scanner.

Without an incubator, a newborn baby would cool down and most likely move around, therefore usually requiring general anesthesia to remain perfectly still. The patient’s movements have a negative impact on the image quality which in turn requires a lot of time in the MRI machine since the exam needs to be repeated until the results are accurate. Since time spent in the MRI machine is generally precious and expensive, saving time is crucial. You can avoid this unattractive solution by using our machine.
Photo: Open incubator with a simulator doll of a newborn inside; Copyright: LMT Medical Systems GmbH

It is important for a premature baby to remain within the atmosphere of the incubator or rather the neonatal incubator inside the neonatal intensive care unit. Thus, an MRI-compatible incubator is especially useful; ©LMT Medical Systems GmbH

How is the nomag®IC built? What makes it so unique?

Friedrich: What makes it so unique above all, is that it actually works near and inside a computer tomograph. It provides temperature and humidity regulation for the patient. It also provides independent electricity and gas supply and the patient can be comfortably rolled into the MRI scanner. The advantage is that you can prepare and transfer the premature infant at the neonatal intensive care unit before it is brought to radiology for the exam. Once there, you transfer the incubator onto the MRI stretcher and connect the MRI coil with the computer tomograph. This way, the child does not need to be transferred again. Physicians usually time it so the exam takes place immediately after feeding time, since the children generally fall asleep while they are being rolled across the corridor, just like they would during a walk in the stroller. Of course, this also always depends on the child’s state of health. This way, the physician can often completely do without general anesthesia and also save manpower apart from saving time, since an anesthesiologist is not required during the MRI exam.

What did you need to consider during the conceptual design to ensure the incubator is MRI compatible?

Friedrich: It is important to use MRI compatible materials. This pertains to all components that are part of the device, including the motor. The electronic system also needs to be shielded. Like I said, it needs to be designed so that all functions continue to run perfectly under the CT scanner and imaging is not malfunctioning at the same time.

Why is it necessary to still relocate the newborn babies? Could they not actually be already resting in the nomag®IC at the neonatal intensive care unit?

Friedrich: No, this would not make sense. Our machine is designed for short-term use which includes the transport time to radiology and the MRI exam. Compared to a stationary incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit, our machine is also larger and longer due to the size of the tomograph stretcher. This would be impractical at a care unit. Stationary incubators also have another focus; treating the patient and access to them is more important in this case.
The interview was conducted by Kilian Spelleken and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.