The quest for improved resolution, contrast, sensitivity, and quality in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has led to a number of significant innovations in the acquisition methods and the system hardware. Improved gradient performance and radiofrequency (RF) technology highly improved the benefit of MR imaging methods and allowed MRI to become one of the most important imaging modalities in diagnosis, treatment follow-up, and research.
For more than 10 years now, ultra-high-field (UHF) systems (7 Tesla and above) have been at the focus of research at a few centers. Until very recently, these few systems have been used for basic research in MR methodology and hardware as well as neuroscience imaging. This basic research enabled a wider range of applications, which has led to increased number of installations worldwide. Today, ten human MRIs of 7 Tesla and 9.4 Tesla are installed in Germany.
The scientific expertise, technical effort, and costs of operation for such systems are very high, and thus only a limited number of researchers currently have access to this technology. In a European survey of users and providers, UHF-MRI has already been identified with MR-PET as one of the most important innovations in medical imaging modalities.
Unfortunately, this high user demand to provide access to external users, is currently not met by the existing UHF centers. Most UHF centers are can provide no or very limited access. The main reasons are limited resources to prepare, support, and conduct studies with external users; missing coordination to match user's interests with the provider's possibilities; and a lack of standard procedures, regulations, and legal framework to work on these investigational devices, that operate outside of the current EU safety limits for medical MRI devices.
Therefore, the aim is to create and promote a nationwide network of UHF MRI sites. This network would facilitate communication between all UHF MRI locations in Germany, advance joint research and facilitate standardization and coordination / organization access to UHF MRI systems for scientists.
The GUFI goals of the initial 3-year project period were:
- Establish a web-based platform to inform external users about the technical and methodological possibilities at each of the UHF MR sites in Germany. The website will act as a central point of contact for external scientists, giving explicit contact information for their desired site, and it will be used to inform about and promote the research activities at UHF.
- Harmonize access procedures and provide recommendations for establishing or further developing User Access Rules.
- Clarify ethical, regulatory, liability, and safety issues common to all UHF MR sites.
- Intensify communication between UHF MR sites to promote the exchange of solutions to common technical challenges and to accelerate progress in this field of research.
- Develop QA procedures which are adapted to the unique challenges of UHF MR.
- Pool QA data acquired from all sites, and together with equipment manufacturers work on effective measures to improve and equalize system performance.
GUFI has already made important contributions to meet these challenges. A number of milestones have been achieved in building the national UHF MR community, including the establishment of a common presentation and access portal for all UHF MR sites; a regular quality control; Consensus on access methods, implant handling and coil testing procedures; and regular communication between all UHF locations. Since 2017, a second phase of GUFI has been funded by the DFG to continue the successful work.
This project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).