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URBANA — University of Illinois scientists and patients at Carle Foundation Hospital could soon have access to the world’s most advanced magnetic-resonance-imaging equipment.

But the joint purchase of the Siemens 7-Tesla MRI system, one of only a handful across the country designated for patient use, has drawn questions from UI trustees, who will vote on it next week.

Carle and the university are sharing the cost of the MRI scanner as well as the installation and maintenance costs over the next 10 years. The UI’s share will be $7.76 million, administrators told trustees Monday at a committee meeting.

They will also split time on the equipment, so it can be used both for research and to treat patients in clinical settings at Carle, UI officials said.

If approved, it would be the first 7-Tesla MRI for clinical use in Illinois and one of only six in the country, Jennifer Eardley, Carle’s vice president for research, said Tuesday.

Pooling resources was essential, officials from both organizations said.

“Neither Carle nor the university would procure this system on their own due to the significant cost to purchase and maintain this equipment,” she said.

The MRI scanner, to be located at Carle, will be used by the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute, which has a long history of advances in MRI technology dating back to the late Nobel Laureate Paul Lauterbur, a chemist whose work made it possible.

'Very rare, very special'

With its more detailed resolution, the 7-Tesla MRI will allow Illinois to take the lead in the development of advanced neuro-imaging technologies and do research “at the frontiers of modern neuroscience — discovering new properties of the human brain,” a memo to the board said.

It will have a “broad, transformative impact on the Illinois research community at a time when a top research priority is understanding the brain’s organization, function, and plasticity, for both healthy people and those impacted by injury and disease,” the memo said.

It will also enhance the reputation of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Carle Hospital and the UI’s research enterprise, and improve patient care, supporters said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of 7-Tesla MRI to scan patients’ knees and brains, said Kara Johnson, Beckman’s assistant director of administration.

The new system will improve Carle’s ability to care for patients with epilepsy and other neurological conditions, Eardley said. For example, it could provide earlier diagnoses of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and determine if a knee cartilage transplant is healing well, she said.

The only other U.S. hospitals with similar machines are the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Houston Methodist and USC Los Angeles.

“We are excited about the opportunities to discover new uses for the technologies as our physicians and scientists work together to advance the limits of the technology,” Eardley said.

Board of Trustees Treasurer Lester McKeever asked if the UI’s Chicago campus has a similar MRI system, adding, “It sounds like this would really be significant for the university as a whole because there’s so much emphasis in this area right now.”

Avijit Ghosh, vice president and CFO of the UI system, said the 7-Tesla MRI is “very rare, very special. I’m sure there will be opportunities for collaboration.”

The UI College of Medicine and hospital in Chicago intend to eventually acquire a 7-Tesla MRI as well, said Chief Executive Officer Mike Zenn.

'Who’s paying what'

Trustees also pressed for more details on the cost-sharing arrangement, noting that the MRI will be owned by and located at Carle.

“We just want to be sure we’re very clear on who’s paying what,” said Trustee Don Edwards.

The agreement withCarle allows for “significant time for research” on the new system, noted Susan Martinis, UI vice chancellor for research.

“It’s truly a public-private partnership to bring a very special piece of equipment into Illinois,” Martinis said. “There’s just not very many of these in the nation.”

The MRI system is part of a larger equipment purchase by Carle to upgrade its imaging facilities, including several other scanners, officials said.

That allowed the hospital to negotiate a “significant savings” on the purchase with Siemens, Martinis said.

Michael Bass, senior UI associate vice president and deputy comptroller, said the price is $375,000 less than the original quote, and the company also provided an extended maintenance contract.

Martinis said the UI has signed a letter of intent governing the purchase and use of the equipment, worked out between Carle and the Beckman Institute. The parties are working on a more detailed contract, she said.

The agreement will allow the UI to use the equipment 50 percent of the time for 10 years, considered the “useful life” of the system.

Noting that upgrades could extend the scanner’s life beyond 10 years, Edwards asked about extending the term of the contract.

“Why limit it to 10 years if we’re paying for half of it?” he asked.

Johnson said the plan is to include language in the agreement giving the UI the right to continue using it if the machine’s life span exceeds 10 years.

“In the future, maybe we could get a little more information on these purchases,” Edwards added.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).