With recent advancements gripping the industry, MRI has become the gold standard for soft tissue imaging in a wide range of conditions, including musculoskeletal and neurologic disorders and cancer. The multicontrast MRI technology introduced lately gives clinicians more data than conventional scanning, in a substantially shorter time. The newer technologies provide users with the flexibility to adjust the images retrospectively; leading to significant timesaving, fewer rescans and therefore cost savings, allowing the clinicians in making a more decisive diagnosis.

In order to survive in the highly competitive MRI equipment market, vendors are adopting various strategic initiatives in order to expand their geographical presence and improve their expertise. The year 2016 witnessed a steep rise in the entry of FDA-approved products in the market, allowing end users to choose from a wide range of treatment options depending on the disease complexity. The new scanners are quieter and more comfortable for patients than those used previously, and include an enhanced intelligent workflow for complete exams. Advancements in MRI techniques such as the development of superconducting (SC) magnets, open architecture, ultra-high-field MRI, and software applications, and the advent of MRI-compatible pacemakers are expected to drive the demand for MRI systems among end users in the next few years.

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The shortfall of helium in the past few years restricted the growth of the MRI-equipment industry to an extent. The dwindling supplies of helium impacted the production of new magnets, and existing MRI machines had to be filled with less helium each time they were serviced, thus needing more maintenance and service visits, resulting in increased downtime for customers.

MRI companies have risen to the challenge with their innovations over the last decade, making the shift from liquid helium to other methods of cooling. Despite the seeming challenge of a global helium shortage, healthcare providers are instead benefiting with more cost-effective MRI machines delivering equal or even better quality images.

With the new designs incorporating superconducting wire and removing the need for liquid helium promising better performance, a smaller price tag, lower operating costs, and the eliminated need for expensive building alteration, the entire industry is very likely to make the switch.

Indian Market Dynamics

The Indian MRI equipment market is estimated at 1,632 crore, at 380 units in 2016. The 1.5T systems continue to be popular with a 63 percent value share, and a 68 percent volume share in this segment. 3T systems that are seeing fast growth have a 25 percent value share and an 11.3 percent volume share. The 0.2T–0.5T systems, although gradually perceived as exiting this segment, continue to maintain presence with a 2 percent share in the Indian market. The refurbished segment constitutes the balance share. The Indian market has not yet procured any 7T system.

GE, Philips, and Siemens have a combined share of 95 percent in the Indian market; the balance is shared by Hitachi and Toshiba.

Digital MRI systems with advanced clinical outcomes and new imaging protocol workflows are gaining preference. The discerning customer appreciates the flexibility of adjusting and retrospectively correcting the scan. A higher-speed system takes almost one-third the time of the conventional scan. The only noise a patient hears in a silent MRI is the room-level noise. Awareness that MRI imaging capacity can be expanded through data-driven workflow optimization is removing major operational bottlenecks at the facilities.

Global Market Dynamics

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The global MRI equipment market is projected to reach USD 7.19 billion by 2021 from USD 5.61 billion in 2016, growing at a CAGR of 5.1 percent from 2016 to 2021, says MarketsandMarkets. Factors such as rising geriatric population, advancements in MRI technologies, and the advent of MRI-compatible pacemakers are expected to drive the demand for MRI systems among end users in the next five years.

On the other hand, high cost of MRI systems, depleting helium gas deposits, and declining reimbursement rates for MRI procedures are expected to affect the growth of the MRI systems market. In the emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil, and Middle-East, novel application areas such as detection of multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, and advent of hybrid MRI systems provide new growth opportunities to players in the MRI systems market.

Research Updates

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Similar to the way that a conventional MRI machine uses large magnets to generate 3D images, physicists have developed a proposal for a quantum nano-MRI machine that would use the magnetic properties of a single atomic qubit to generate 3D images with 0.1-nanometer resolution.

Nano-MRI promises to bring the resolution of MRI measurements, normally limited to tens of micrometers, down to the nanometric scale, making measurements of single-biomolecule MR spectra a tangible aspiration. It is potentially able to observe structures that cannot be seen using today's molecular imaging, with sensitivities many billions times better than MRI as currently used in hospitals.

Specialists from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands and ITMO university in Russia acquired human MR-images with enhanced local sensitivity provided by a thin metasurface. The metasurface, placed between a patient and the receiver coils, allows better image resolution in a shorter duration. By placing a specially designed metamaterial under the studied object in an MRI scanner, it is possible to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in the scanned area.

Scientists from the National University of Singapore developed a novel nanodiamond-based MRI contrast agent that improves visualization of liver cancer tumors. The novel dual-mode contrast agent, developed using nanodiamonds, provides greater imaging contrast than the existing clinical agents used to improve quality of MRIs. These contrast agents hold great promise in improving imaging for liver cancer.

Outlook

Nano-MRI is emerging as a new ray of hope that can drastically expand the capabilities of the traditional magnetic resonance images (MRI), down to the nanometer scale and possibly, in the near future, to the atomic scale.

Helium-free MRI emerges as the future of MRI equipment industry, and all the new MRI machines would be able to go helium-free within the next few years, as predicted by UK-based MR Solutions' Physicist and the CEO of MR Solutions, David Taylor. The adoption of these alternatives on a wider scale in the future could make MRI more accessible and less expensive to site and operate. This is particularly important in developing regions that lack the necessary infrastructure, and in major metropolitan cities where siting a magnet can cost more than the magnet itself. Patients who currently do not have access to the diagnostic benefits of MRI may have access in the future due to this breakthrough technology.


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