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  • With new portable MRI technology that can be used at a patient's bedside, researchers at the Aga Khan University Medical College in Karachi can deliver the first-ever insights into how providing nutrition supplements to pregnant women can affect the size and structure of the brains of newborns and infants. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)
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Aga Khan University
New MRI technology to power insights into newborn health

Mothers need to eat a healthy, balanced diet.  Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy is one of the main reasons for newborn malnutrition, which can lead to poor brain development and delays in achieving milestones such as standing, crawling, walking and talking.

Thanks to the acquisition of the Hyperfine Swoop MRI (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), which is US Federal Drug Administration-cleared as part of the MUMTA trial, the Aga Khan University’s (AKU) Medical College in Karachi can deliver the first-ever insights into how providing nutrition supplements to pregnant women can affect the size and structure of the brains of newborns and infants.


Dr Harry Hu (left), senior clinical scientist at Hyperfine Research, demonstrates the use of the portable Hyperfine Swoop MRI in a conference room at Aga Khan University.

The MUMTA trial delivers a series of nutritional and therapeutic interventions to expecting mothers, including in the crucial 8 to 20-week period when brain development is at its peak. Faculty will conduct follow-up MRIs on babies up to 12 months of age using the Swoop machine to assess the pace of the baby’s brain development.

“Investing in technology enables you to explore new questions and to find new answers,” said AKU’s Dr Fyezah Jehan, the principal investigator of the MUMTA study. “We have known for a long time that malnutrition affects brain structure. The Swoop MRI machine will enable us to demonstrate for the first time how delivering nutritional support to the baby in utero, through the mother, can address the adverse effects of malnutrition in a developing world setting"

The Swoop has several applications outside of research. Hospitals in Pakistan and around the world currently have conventional, fixed MRI systems – a diagnostic device used to produce detailed images of organs and tissue – which are so large that they need to be kept in two dedicated, custom-designed rooms. Traditional MRIs are also unsuitable for use with critically ill patients, who are difficult to transport from the bed to radiology, as well as with patients who may feel intimidated by the loud noises inside the “tunnel” of the large, dome-shaped machine, which is typically 7 feet (2 metres) high and more than 4 feet (1 metre) wide. 

The Hyperfine Swoop MRI system, which is approximately 4.5 feet (1.4 metres) high and 3 feet (less than 1 metre) wide, is expressly designed to navigate hospital elevators and patient room doorways to deliver MRI capability at the patient’s bedside, shortening wait times for patients needing urgent diagnosis and facilitating quicker diagnosis for neurological diseases such as stroke, hydrocephalus and head injuries. Moreover, the caregiver can remain with the patient during examination, reducing the anxiety normally felt with conventional MRI systems.

“With conventional MRIs you have to bring the person to the machine, Hyperfine Swoop enables you to bring the machine to the bedside of a critically-ill patient,” said Dr Harry Hu, senior clinical scientist at Hyperfine Research, who accompanied the system to Aga Khan University. “It is a great option for hospitals as it costs much less than a traditional MRI while delivering diagnostic quality images.”

This makes Pakistan the first country in Asia and only the third outside the USA to acquire a portable MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, system that can be wheeled directly to a patient's bedside and make MR imaging as simple as receiving a bedside electrocardiogram (ECG).


Traditional MRI systems are fixed in place and need to be kept in two dedicated, custom-designed rooms. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)

In the future, radiologists and clinicians envision using the portable MRI at the Aga Khan University Hospital to conduct brain scans of adult and paediatric patients in the intensive care unit, or at the point of care.  

“In hospitals around the world many critically ill patients don’t get imaged because it is too dangerous to move them to the MRI machine,” said Dr Khan Siddiqui, AKU alumnus and Hyperfine’s chief medical officer and chief strategy officer. “Hyperfine Swoop expands access to imaging which is more convenient for patients who need multiple scans. It is also essential for clinicians who need advanced images to make faster and better treatment decisions.”

The MUMTA study is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is being conducted by the Vital Pakistan Trust and Aga Khan University.

This text was adapted from an article published on the AKU website.