Magnetic resonance imaging systems are great for diagnosis but they don't allow surgeons to operate on someone who is cocooned in them. General Electric Co. has conquered that obstacle by removing the middle third of the tube, leaving two magnetic doughnuts. The system creates a distortion-free image of what's located between the doughnuts--such as a torso. GE used a special niobium-tin coil in the magnets that enables them to superconduct at a higher temperature. That allowed GE to trim the MRI's cooling system so that it could fit inside the new design.
Being able to monitor an MRI image of an organ while operating on it should help with procedures that require extreme precision, such as tumor removal. It could also facilitate surgery that uses lasers or jets of cold gas. The system was developed in collaboration with radiologists at Harvard's Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston and will be tested there in March. GE, which has invested $50 million in the project, hopes to market the machines by 1997 at $3 million apiece. Meanwhile, GE is working with other companies to produce and develop MRI-compatible scalpels and needles.