The world’s most powerful MRI reveals its first images of the human brain

The world’s most powerful MRI reveals its first images of the human brain

“Watch our results, because it’s going to blow your mind!” » Research director at the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Nicolas Boulant is excited by presenting this Tuesday morning the first brain images obtained by his “baby” for which he is responsible, the most powerful MRI (magnetic resonance) scanner in the world. Iseult, that’s its name, is the result of more than 20 years of research carried out by 200 people. “We are a little moved and very happy, for all these people who believed and achieved it. This is the start of a new adventure in neuroscience, which looks very promising,” rejoices Anne-Isabelle Etienvre, director of fundamental research at the CEA.

Iseult has an unrivaled magnetic field of 11.7 Tesla, compared to 1.5 or 3 Tesla for the MRIs with which hospitals are equipped. The results he obtains by “scanning” a human brain for a few minutes are much more precise. “By gaining resolution and contrast, we can have breathtaking details on anatomical details, such as veins, unattainable at lower magnetic fields,” describes Nicolas Boulant.

A volunteer during a session in Iseult, the CEA MRI scanner in Saclay. AFP/Alain Jocard

Previous images of a pumpkin

In 2021, the CEA had already revealed the first images of a… whole pumpkin, chosen for its multiple and varied textures. Its seeds and fibers were perfectly visible. This time, the volunteers had to remain immobilized inside the magnet.

Being able to explore a human brain offers great prospects in terms of research and health. It could make it possible, in particular, to better understand the functioning of neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.) or psychiatric diseases (schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, etc.). “Lithium is used as a medication to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but its action is not well understood. Iseult will be able to better understand its role,” illustrates Nicolas Boulant.

Without health effects? The results of the tests – particularly physiological – carried out on the patients “scanned” by Iseult are reassuring. There remains one pitfall before imagining large-scale development of this “super MRI”, designed in association with the University of Freiburg, in Germany: its cost. 215 million euros were invested, including 58 million euros for the construction of the central part of the magnet alone.

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