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Small is beautiful: the Brisbane med-tech bringing MRI scanning closer to the patient point-of-care

Individuals who require Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans frequently face a long wait but a Brisbane med-tech company hopes to change that, by creating compact MRI machines that can be deployed in a multitude of locations close to the patient point-of-care, including hospital departments and remote clinics.

Established in 2005, Magnetica had its genesis as a designer of super-conducting magnets and developer of gradient and radio frequency coils – key hardware components of every MRI system – which were sold to MRI manufacturers and systems integrators.

18-months ago, the company decided to step up the value chain and become a fully-fledged manufacturer under its own steam. To that end, it merged with Scientific Magnetics, a UK-based developer of bespoke, super-conducting magnet systems, in January 2021.

Magnetica CEO Duncan Stovell says the partnership has given Magnetica access to specialist technologies and skills that will enable it to commercialise an own-brand MRI scanner, manufacturing many of the key sub-systems here in Australia.

Traditional “whole body” MRI machines are designed to be able to produce scans of any part of the human body. They’re generally the province of larger tertiary hospitals and clinics, where they’re installed on the ground floor, because of their extraordinary weight.

Rather than competing in this market, Magnetica aims to produce compact ‘extremity scanners’ that can collect detailed, high quality images from elbow to hand and knee to foot.

“Extremity imaging accounts for around 30 per cent of all MRI scans currently,” Stovell notes.  “Typically, they don’t require contrast dye so they’re often kept until the evening because they’re simpler and don’t require Radiologists to be on-site. We see an opportunity to produce a complementary system that can take some of the workload off the whole-body MRI machines.”

Compact scans should also provide a better patient experience, courtesy of the fact that only the affected extremity will need to be encapsulated in the bore of the MRI system, rather than the entire body.

And because the Magnetica MRI system will be notably smaller and lighter weight, it will have the potential to be installed in a greater range of locations, including regional hubs, mobile clinics and specialists’ rooms.

“We see that as having two potential benefits: reducing wait times and bringing the technology closer to the patient point-of-care,” Stovell says. “Improved access to high quality diagnostics could result in better health outcomes for individuals who can’t easily travel to major centres for scanning.”

Magnetica is a member of Life Sciences Queensland, the Queensland peak body that provides pathways for stakeholders to collaborate, build their businesses and develop and internationally competitive life sciences industry in Australia.

LSQ Chief Executive Clare Blain says the company, which employs a team of 14 mechanical, electrical, software and mechatronics engineers, is one of the brightest stars in Queensland’s burgeoning medical and bio-tech firmament.

“Enterprises like Magnetica show us that innovation and world class engineering are alive and thriving here in the Sunshine State,” Blain says. “We’re honoured to support them as they turn a vision for better patient care into reality.”

That’s the great challenge faced by all bio-tech and med-tech startups, Stovell adds: “Great ideas are one thing but getting them to market in a sustainable way is the hard bit! We’re focused on doing that, so we can start making a real difference for individuals and communities, in Australia and elsewhere in the world.”

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Duncan Stovell CEO