Making the invisible visible

Jul 03, 2017

There are a number of Imaging modalities available for clinicians to see what is happening inside our bodies, however the 3rd July 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the first detailed human MRI image.

Since the first image was created, innovation in modern imaging technology has meant that researchers now have greater opportunities to study how the brain encodes information, including individual memories. It also allows them to see small structures in the brain associated with the early stages of dementia, as well as those associated with brain injuries and epilepsy.

Advancements like this could even spell the end of having to cut into the brain and study a sample under a microscope.

The technology today enables researchers to look at the physical and chemical components of the brain in exquisite detail – not just an image. The level of detail which can be seen is similar in size to a grain of sand, providing new insight and the possibility of earlier diagnosis.

Please see below four images of MRI scans from Siemens Healthineers, which provides over half of the MRI scanners in the UK. They’re from 1980, 1983, 1993 and 2016. They illustrate how the quality of imaging has advanced – supporting earlier diagnosis and therefore the opportunity for better and more personalised treatment.

1980: Siemens Lab Manager Alexander Ganssen was the first human to have his brain scanned by the Siemens 0.1T MRI using a magnet manufactured in Oxford. It was uncomfortable for patients as they had to crawl into the magnet, which was a very tight fit.


1983: The ‘MAGNETOM’ was launched, a significant breakthrough and already able to show significant contrast between different tissue types, allowing clinicians to recognise pathological changes. Because of the magnetic field strength, users were cautioned not to install the system within 15 metres of any street used by cars and trucks, or lifts with steel cages.


1993: Saw the introduction of the first MRI that was accessible to all patients. It was equipped with a 0.2 Tesla magnet and was open on three sides, making it possible to scan claustrophobic patients. This design even made it possible for clinicians to monitor patients.


2016: An image from the Siemens MAGNETOM 7T MRI scanner. Siemens Healthineers built on this success and recently introduced the MAGNETOM Terra, the world’s first 7 Tesla system that is designed for clinical use as well as research. The 7 Tesla magnet was developed by engineers at Siemens Magnet Technology in Oxford and allows clinicians the ability to see detail as tiny as a grain of sand. The MAGNETOM Terra is light enough to be shipped by air and, for the first time in history, Ultra High Field MRI is being considered for use in a hospital environment.