HOW MOST MRIs WORK: Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio frequency waves and a strong magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. These radio waves are directed at protons in hydrogen atoms -- one of the most abundant atoms in the human body, because of the body's high water content. The waves "excite" the protons, and when they "relax," they emit strong radio signals. A computer can turn those signals into a high-contrast image showing differences in the water content and distribution in various bodily tissues.
HOW THIS MRI IS DIFFERENT: Most MRI machines require the patient to lie horizontally during the scan, but the machine developed by these researchers will work if the patient is standing upright. Traditional MRIs produce a strong magnetic field to detect the weak magnetic field inside the body. With this MRI, the patient first inhales magnetized helium, which boosts their bodyıs magnetic field from the inside. Because the internal magnetic field is stronger, the MRI machine can produce a weaker field and still detect the signal. Because the machine allows the patient to stand, it can image his or her air flow and blood flow in upright postures. The orientation of the body alters gas distribution, which could allow doctors to obtain a different perspective unavailable through traditional MRI.