Public Release: 

Incubator company at NJIT develops lifesaving MRI coil for small animals

New MRI coil will advance cancer research

New Jersey Institute of Technology



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NEWARK, Mar 7-Supertron, a start-up technology company housed in the small business incubators at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT, announced today that it has begun developing a cryogenic coil to improve Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners.

"The new coil will be well suited for animal imaging," said Supertron President Jon T. DeVries. "Small animal models, particularly genetically engineered mice, are becoming an increasingly powerful tool for cancer researchers. This potential has not been fully realized to date due to the need to sacrifice the animal and conduct tissue and molecular analysis thereby losing out on the opportunity to observe, in vivo, the evolution of the processes under study."

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) recently awarded the company a $250,000 Springboard II grant. This money follows an earlier $2 million grant in 2003 from the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) at the US Department of Commerce.

Erzhen Gao, PhD, director of research and development for the company will lead the effort. The tests will be conducted through a series of animal studies conducted at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).

"Eventually, we hope to see our system upgrade existing MRI scanners because our coils can enhance installed MRIs, enabling them to produce cleaner, clearer and easier-to-read images at an affordable price," said DeVries. A medical school is testing another Supertron coil system developed for low field MRIs of the human head.

DeVries said interest in small animal imaging is growing and cited programs doing this research including the Small Animal Imaging Resource Program at the National Cancer Institute.

Coils are the receiving antenna of the radio waves emitted during an MRI scan and are essential to the MRI's operation. An MRI clinic may have as many as ten coils, each designed for specific anatomical parts (spine, head knee, jaw, etc). The antennas inside the coils are primarily made of copper operating at room temperature. They cost between $10,000 and $75,000 (the latter for complex neurovascular coils) and are replaced frequently as coil technology continues to improve, said DeVries.

The market for MRI coils has grown to about $300 million annually in total worldwide sales. While some MRI makers, such as Siemens and Philips, manufacture their own coils, most coils are made by independent companies. In December 2002, GE Medical Systems acquired one of the leading coil manufacturers, USA Instruments, Inc.

An MRI is a medical imaging modality that produces high quality photographs depicting a section of the human body. MRIs use magnetism and radio waves to create the images. In 1983, the FDA approved MRI scanners for sale in the US, which launched the commercial MRI market. Today more than 22,000 MRI systems operate worldwide. MRIs are categorized according to the strength of the magnet (measured in Tesla) and whether the system design is open or closed.

MRIs diagnose many injuries and conditions because of their versatility. When used for animal research, the information can benefit many applications including drug discovery, the real-time study of brain activity and data to help determine the need for surgery. "We see great growth for this field," added DeVries. "MRI patient scans have grown at the rate of 15 to 20 percent annually over the past five years, with more than 65 million patient scans done worldwide in 2004.

Prior to founding Supertron, Gao was a research scientist in electrical engineering at Columbia University where he designed and built coils and filters for MRI s and wireless communication applications. Gao has published more than 40 papers in this field. He received his doctorate in applied physics from Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China.

Prior to joining Supertron, DeVries directed a research project supported by Southern California Edison, led a research team at Polytechnic Institute, Brooklyn, worked as a venture capitalist at Pennwood Capital. He holds an MBA from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College.

The Enterprise Development Center (EDC), founded in 1988 at NJIT, is a small business incubator committed to the long-term economic vitality and growth of entrepreneurial ventures in New Jersey. EDC, New Jersey's first incubator, aims to increase the rate of small business formations and to decrease the failure rate of start-ups. It promotes the growth of young, small companies by assisting them to commercialize their new products, processes and services. The program provides support and acts as a "proving ground" in conjunction with the NJIT campus, faculty, management, alumni, and students for new and developing high-tech products.

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New Jersey Institute of Technology, the state's public technological research university, enrolls more than 8,300 students in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 100 degree programs offered by six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing Sciences. NJIT is renowned for expertise in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and eLearning.

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