Rights: The University of Waikato Published 21 July 2007 Download

Dr Richard Watts from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury talks about what an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine is used for.

With an MRI, you can scan all parts of the body, but Richard’s research is primarily concerned with imaging the brain. MRIs can be used to look for a variety of diseases and injuries.


We can scan all parts of the body. The brain is our specific focus here at the Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson’s and Brain Research but, there’s a huge amount of interest in imaging other parts of the body, particularly you can look a things like cancer, in any part of the body, you can look at vascular disease. MRI is good for looking at a very wide range of diseases like heart disease, so, we can look at the blood vessels of the heart, and we can see whether they’re open, whether there’s a good supply of blood there. You can also look at the heart actually moving and you can do some dynamic imaging of the heart and see how it moves and you can look at stress in the actual muscle of the heart.

We can look at other parts of the body such as the kidneys. A lot people have problems with the kidneys, partly again that may be due to lack of blood supply, we can image the blood vessels leading to the kidneys and decide whether we need to intervene there and to open up those blood vessels. It’s very good at looking at what we call soft tissues. It’s not great at looking at bone because bone doesn’t contain a lot of hydrogen so we don’t have a lot of signal there. We can look at things like muscular injuries. I know here they often scan All Blacks when they get injuries so basically almost any part of the body is amenable to these MRI scans. When you’re looking at differences between muscle and tendons and fluid and all the other things which we have in our bodies, you get very good contrasts with MRI’s, much better than using x-rays such as a CT Scan.