There are many factors that affect image quality of MRI images. The machine itself is the main factor, including magnetic field strength and software but another very important component is the coil. Coils are used to amplify and receive the radiofrequency signal like antennas. Because the cost of MRI machines increases exponentially when you compare 1.5 T to 3 T, healthcare providers cannot afford to upgrade to the next generation technology.

Upgrading coils can also be fairly expensive if you go with the name brand, GE, Toshiba etc., so upgrading with a third-­party coil is becoming a viable option. Also, upgrading to a coil which is more flexible with more channels can significantly affect image quality and signal­to­noise ratio.

Now, versatile coils that aren’t limited to specific anatomical regions can be used in medical centers with increased patient comfort, flexibility and the ability to scan many body parts with a single coil. “The closer a coil’s position to the anatomy viewed, the stronger the signal. So a close, flexible fit with the patient’s anatomy will improve imaging,” said Andreas Melzer MD DDS, trained radiologist and Professor of Medical Technology and Founding Director of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT). “We’ve found the open, flexible fitting architecture of DuoFLEX coils provides very high­quality imaging that accommodates images from multiple angles. It combines this with more diagnostic and particularly interventional freedom for the abdomen, knee, wrist, spine, and shoulder. Traditional rigid coils, in contrast, are often closed in with harnesses, which hinders punctures, thermal ablation or injecting agents while the patient wears them.”

Rigid, body part specific coils were once considered the end­all be­all of coils and each imaging center needed up to 5­7 different coils. The downside of having individualized coils for each body part is that if one needs to be replaced, you would usually have to go straight to the MRI manufacturer. But now you can replace multiple rigid anatomy­specific coils for one flexible versatile coil.

Another big advantage of aftermarket coils lies in the fact that MRI manufacturers generally do not see fit to offer coil upgrades for older model MRI systems. Third­-party makers on the other hand, are now offering new 8 channel multi­purpose coils for upgrading older generation systems. Another reason why the availability of flexible, versatile coils is limited is that the qualification process is very challenging and multifaceted. Third-­party coils must be CE marked; FDA approved and also must be approved by the original MRI manufacturer for clinical use.

The first third-­party manufacturer to meet the requirements for GE 1.5T MRI machines was MR Instruments, who released their DuoFLEX Coil Suite of 8 channel coils. The DuoFLEX coils are available in two sizes (10cm and 24cm) and have a comfortable flexible design. The company is currently developing Siemens 1.5T and Siemens, GE 3T multi­purpose coils set for release in 2015. “Flexible MRI coils have the potential to save set­up time when switching between anatomy­specific coils,” concludes Melzer. “They would be good for fast, individually placed coil set­ups, including near full body scans in the case of cancer, or for individualized, pediatric, whole body scanning, and for MR guided interventions in particular.”