German Future Prize for Michael Uder

Symbolic picture for the article. The link opens the image in a large view.
Dr. David Grodzki, Dr. Stephan Biber and Prof. Dr. Michael Uder, together with the Federal President Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier. (image: Siemens Healthineers)

Erlangen team receive the German Future Prize from the Federal President for developing the innovative low-field MRI platform.

This year, the Federal President’s prize for technology and innovation has been awarded to a team from Erlangen. Prof. Dr. Michael Uder, Director of the Institute of Radiology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen and Chair of Diagnostic Radiology at FAU, was awarded the German Future Prize 2023 on November 22, 2023, together with his two team colleagues from Siemens Healthineers. Together with Dr. David Grodzki and FAU alumnus Dr. Stephan Biber, Prof. Uder was involved in developing Magnetom Free, a platform for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with a low field strength. “Winning the Future Prize is a great honor and a special accolade for the entire team. It is also recognition for the many years’ close cooperation between Universitätsklinikum and Siemens Healthineers,” said Prof. Uder at the awards ceremony.

“I am very pleased about this honor and warmly congratulate Michael Uder and his team colleagues,” said Prof. Dr. Heinrich Iro, Medical Director of Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. “The fact that Germany’s most prestigious award for technology and innovation goes to a team from Erlangen this year is further proof of how strong our region is when it comes to research and development, and how well our experts work together across professions and company boundaries.”

The nomination in September was itself a great honor. Each year, only three individuals or teams are nominated for the German Future Prize after successfully passing through several stages. The German Federal President then awards the prize to the award-winning project in November or December. The German Future Prize is worth 250,000 euros.

Starting point and motivation

“More than half of the world’s population have no access to MRI scans, as many places do not offer the facilities required to install or operate the complex technology. However, imaging technology is vital for many diseases. It became clear that an entirely new approach had to be taken to MRI if we were to resolve this imbalance,” explains Michael Uder. “By changing several variables and combining them with each other in an innovative way, we succeeded in creating a system that a lot of people across the world will be able to benefit from in the future. The new development from Erlangen will play a decisive role for many patients, particularly in less economically developed regions.”

Access to MRI technology saves lives

Traditionally, a reliable MRI scanner is bulky, complex and expensive. According to Prof. Uber, this leads to the regrettable situation that “the technology is predominantly available to patients in industrial states. We realized that if more people were to benefit from the imaging procedure in future, we would have to find a way to overcome the operational and infrastructural obstacles. Doctors across the globe need to have access to this technology if they are to diagnose illnesses accurately and at an early stage.” Magnetic resonance imaging is radiation-free and is used particularly often for orthopedic complaints, neurological diseases and cancer. “Access to an MRI scanner can actually save lives,” emphasizes Michael Uder.

Paradigm shift in MRI

Together with Dr. Biber, who also lectures at FAU, and Dr. Grodzki from Siemens Healthineers, Prof. Uder and his team at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen have been working on the new development since 2012. The result is Magnetom Free – a reasonably priced and energy-efficient system platform that considerably lowers the barrier for accessing magnetic resonance imaging technology. “Now it is possible for MRI scanners to be installed and operated in locations where it was previously unthinkable,” explains Michael Uder. The main differences between the new invention and conventional MRI scanners are as follows:

  • Innovative magnet cooling system: Instead of the over 1,000 liters required in conventional systems, Magnetom Free only requires 0.7 liters of helium. The system has a closed circuit which has the added advantage that the scanner does not lose any helium during transport or power outages. This means that there is no need to find or organize a helium supplier at the location where the scanner is operated.
  • Low field strength: A conventional electromagnet is sufficient to generate the required 0.55 tesla. In comparison: Highly modern MRI scanners with up to 7 tesla require superconducting magnetic coils. Reducing field strength leads to a reduction in quality. However, this is compensated for using artificial intelligence (AI). The team succeeded in demonstrating in multiple examinations that the Ai-based algorithm for image reconstruction allows sufficient image quality for a precise diagnosis.
  • Compact: Magnetom Free is under two meters tall and only weighs three tonnes. Unlike conventional scanners, that can often only be installed after construction work and using a crane, the new system fits through normal doors.
  • Large patient opening: The new scanner offers an enlarged tunnel diameter of 80 centimeters. This allows obese patients to be examined, and makes the examination less strenuous for children and people suffering from claustrophobia.
  • Simple to operate: The whole system was simplified to allow inexperienced users to be able to use Magnetom Free to conduct MRI examinations safely and with high-quality results.

Global success

Magnetom Free was launched on the market in 2021. “I am proud that we have actually managed to make it possible for people to have an MRI scan for whom it would have been previously unthinkable,” said Prof. Uder, referring to installations in Brazil, India and Angola. In Yemen, it meant that a modern MRI scanner was able to be installed in the country for the first time in over ten years.

Erlangen: Children benefit first

Magnetom Free is also being used in Erlangen. At Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, the light-weight Magnetom Free.Max was able to be installed for the Department of Pediatric Radiology in the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (Director: Prof. Dr. Joachim Wölfle) in a room close to the intensive care ward, making it easier to examine young patients. “In the future, we are considering installing scanners directly in intensive care wards, in order to save patients a journey and cut down on waiting times,” explains Michael Uder. “We are also pleased that technologies we developed specifically for Magnetom Free are to be used in future for future models of larger MRI systems, for example the closed helium circuit.”

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Michael Uder

Chair of Diagnostic Radiology

Phone: +49 9131 85 36065