Auburn University and East Alabama Medical Center partner to provide cutting-edge MRI

AUBURN – Two of the area’s largest employers have teamed up to provide citizens in east Alabama with the latest in magnetic resonance imaging technology. East Alabama Medical Center and Auburn University have partnered to bring a 3-Tesla MRI, the most powerful unit currently cleared for clinical use with humans, to Auburn.

“We have always enjoyed a great relationship with the university, but I feel like this joint venture has taken that connection to a new level,” EAMC president Terry Andrus said. “It’s exciting to know that we can use the MRI during the day to help diagnose the medical needs of our patients and then Auburn can use it at night to work on research that will help improve future medical care.”

The Siemens Verio open-bore 3T MRI, located in Auburn University’s new 45,000-square-foot MRI Research Center, will be used during normal office hours, Monday through Friday, by EAMC. It is leasing nearly 3,000 square feet in the center for the 3T operations and began welcoming patients on Friday, Nov. 19. When not used by EAMC, the 3T unit will be available for use by Auburn researchers and those from other universities.

“We are excited to be able to offer this service to our patients,” said Dr. Justin Phillpott, radiologist and co-medical director of the EAMC radiology department. “The 3T gives us twice the field strength and twice the signal, thereby improving the visualization of small structures. The imaging of the 3T is as fast, if not faster, than our current 1.5T and it has better resolution. The 3T is almost 10 times the strength of the average open MRI.”

Another tenant at the MRI Research Center, Auburn Spine and Neurosurgery, owned by Dr. W. Lee Warren, will soon open its doors. Warren is a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in the minimally invasive management of brain tumors, brain and spinal cord trauma, epilepsy, aneurysms, facial pain and movement disorders, spinal cord and spine disorders and peripheral nerve problems. In addition to seeing patients, Warren will also partner with Auburn University to provide MRI training for other physicians.

“The MRI Center at Auburn University is a major addition to our toolkit for taking care of patients with brain and spine disorders,” Warren said. “3T MRI produces a dramatic improvement in what we can see as we look at the nervous system and spine, which will lead to better diagnostic capability, earlier detection of some problems, the development of less invasive treatment options and ultimately improved health care for the patients we treat.”

Other tenants will include Auburn’s Department of Kinesiology and the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Lab, which will collaborate with the university on research on head and spinal injuries.

Larry Benefield, dean of Auburn’s College of Engineering, which spearheaded the MRI initiative and is home to the MRI Research Center, said that in 2011 the 3T will be joined by one of the nation’s first actively shielded open-bore 7Ts, which will be used solely for research.

“This is a win-win initiative for all involved, and will ensure that the investment in this cutting-edge diagnostic and research tool is utilized to the fullest extent,” Benefield said. “In addition to providing a valuable service for area residents, the center will support the discoveries of new technologies and their transfer to a broad spectrum of medical and pharmaceutical markets.”

Contact: Cheryl Cobb, (334) 844-2220 (cobbche@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)