Here’s the close-to-final version of this prize sketch. As you can see, we’re still debating the precise imagine-a-world statement as well as the prize purse. Please weigh in while we still have time! All prize sketches will be pitched to XPRIZE benefactors and donors on the weekend of Nov 12-14.
The global challenge
MRIs provide life-saving insights into a patient’s health, yet there are only ~40,000 in the world. Most are in rich countries. Just 84 MRIs serve a population of 370 million in West Africa, and most of those are of low-field strength, or 1.5-tesla, meaning they can’t detect the onset of Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis. Two-thirds of the world’s population has no meaningful access to medical imaging at all. This makes it highly unlikely that the sustainable development goal of universal health coverage will be achieved by 2030-35.
Helium, when cooled at -269°C, is the only medium powerful enough to cool the MRI’s superconducting magnet, which generates its high-resolution images of the body. But helium is scarce. 75% is produced in just three locations: Qatar, Texas, and Wyoming. In addition to MRIs, helium is used in rocket fuel and to cool quantum computers; two sectors that are likely to see growth in coming years. In 2019, a helium shortage caused prices to spike to $50 per liter. Laboratories were forced to shut down superconducting magnets.
There is an urgent need…
Bringing affordable imaging to low- and middle-income countries, and enabling regular check-ups for patients around the world, would save lives and cut costs. A scale-up of imaging could avert 2.5M cancer deaths by 2030. A scale-up of imaging, treatment, and care could avert 9.5M deaths. Early detection of Alzheimer’s could save the US alone $7T in long-term healthcare spending.
Finding an alternative to liquid helium is critical to making MRIs more accessible and more affordable.
Imagine a world…
- Anyone, anywhere can get an MRI scan anytime.
- Medical imaging technology is available to everyone, everywhere.
- Medical imaging technology is available around the world.
- 3T MRI, or equivalent imaging modalities, are available to most regions of the world.
(i.e. the market or systemic failures blocking a solution)
- Innovations in imaging tend to either focus on raising quality regardless of cost or on lowering costs at the expense of resolution.
- Because high-field MRIs are so expensive, there are fewer of them, which means they are used in fewer studies, which means fewer biomarkers are flagged with high-field MRIs, which keeps demand low.
- The liquid helium shortage isn’t so acute that manufacturers must find an alternative short term. Nor do GE, Philips, and Siemens — the three largest manufacturers — have an interest in undercutting their own market.
The winning team will…
Design a lightweight, low-cost imaging device that meets the high-resolution standard of a 3-tesla MRI without using liquid helium as a coolant.
Testing and judging
Cost: Retail price must be lower than the cheapest 1.5T MRI on the market at prize launch.
Coolant: Uses no liquid helium.
Electricity use: No more than 15 kWh per scan. (The current MRI average.)
Resolution: 3T or equivalent.
Noise: No more than 110 dB. (The current MRI average.)
Weight: Lighter than the lightest MRI on the market at prize launch. (Philips Panorama 1.0 weighs 15,000 lbs, or 6,800 kg.)