An MRI image looks complex, sophisticated, and almost science fiction.
When a physician is carefully examining an MRI image, you have to wonder what they are searching for in all of those highly contrasted black and white shapes. They may be examining your shoulder, or your spine, or your brain. Exactly what is the foundation to this image? And how does a physician know when examining the brain if that black circle is a normal structure, or a tumor?
So what does an MRI do?
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. In the scientific community, it can also be referred to as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. If you have ever had an MRI scan, you know that when you enter the room, it is oddly cold. This is because the two powerful magnets that form the core of the MRI machine need to be kept cool in order to function. The magnets are constantly working to maintain a strong and stable magnetic field. Maintaining this field requires a lot of energy, so the machine requires -296 degree Celsius (-452 degrees Fahrenheit) liquid helium to keep the magnets in this conductive state.
Once the radiologist guides you into the room, you lie down on a long platform that then slides into a large white tube. While in the tube, your only job is to lie perfectly still while the large magnets clank, buzz, and whirl around you.
All of that clanking and buzzing serves a purpose. Your body is made up mostly of water molecules, which contain hydrogen and oxygen atoms with a tiny proton in the middle. That proton is sensitive to magnets. While you are lying in an MRI, the protons in your body are aligned, relaxed, and re-aligned. The result of this proton dance is a high-resolution image of the inside of your body. Pretty neat.
MRI’s in medicine
MRI’s completely revolutionized the way doctors and scientists examine the human body. A smart man named Dr. Raymond Vahan Damadian discovered that when examining a patient using magnetic resonance, tumors and normal tissues are distinguishable from each other due to their unique proton dances. Using this technology, Dr. Damadian performed the first full human body scan on a patient and was able to diagnose them with cancer.
This was only the beginning of the miraculous healing properties of the MRI. Today, all medical facilities rely on this machine to take a glimpse underneath the skin. MRI scans can be used to diagnose strokes, tumors, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and more. They have also fundamentally changed brain research; brain imaging labs use MRI’s to measure brain structure and function, thus allowing researchers to answer difficult questions such as, “How does the brain develop over time?,” or, “Do the brains of chronic pain patients look different than the brains of healthy people?”.
MRI scanners use the foundational components of our bodies – protons – to paint pictures of internal ailments and entire organ structures. It is a prime example of the marvels and wonders of modern-day science.
Click here to see a video of what happens to your body during an MRI.