The latest digital technologies are driving major advances in medical equipment Through the development of an ultra-sensitive magnetic sensor component capable of measuring subtle biomagnetic fields, TDK is contributing to the creation of a future in which advanced medical technologies may be developed using such components.
Advancement of medical 3D imaging
Numerous medical technologies have been developed over the years to visualize the internal conditions of the body. These include technologies now widely used in the medical field, such as X-rays,computed tomography (CT)—which combines X-rays with a computer to produce cross-sectional images of the body, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—which utilizes the movement of atoms in a strong magnetic field.
A variety of technologies have been created to help examine the physiological processes of human organs, especially the heart, and methods have evolved over the years. An electrocardiogram (ECG)*1 is a standard test used in health check-ups. Electrodes attached to the body display an electrical waveform of the heart’s movement, allowing the activity of the heart muscle and any disturbances in the heartbeat to be examined. Magnetocardiograph (MCG)*2 is a technology that measures the faint biomagnetism*3 produced by the heart to observe cardiac activity. However, biomagnetic fields are so weak—just one ten-millionth of the geomagnetic field—that ultra-sensitive magnetic sensors are needed to detect them precisely.
A significant breakthrough in the measurement of biomagnetism was the development of the SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device)*4 around 1970. It is a magnetic sensor equipped with superconductors and can be applied as a magnetic flux meter with extremely high sensitivity, making it possible to measure biomagnetism in the heart, muscles and brain.
However, SQUID requires a shielded room to block magnetic influences from the outside world and liquid helium to cool the superconducting coils, making the system large and expensive.
CT and MRI are technologies effective for the early detection and treatment of diseases, but they both require very large equipment, limiting the number of medical institutions that can host them. There is a great need for smaller and safer technologies to visualize the body’s internal condition, and development activities are ongoing at medical device makers around the world.
Features of TDK’s high-sensitivity MR magnetic sensor component
As a potential alternative to SQUID technology for measuring biomagnetism, TDK has developed the Nivio™ xMR Sensor component. It is a biomagnetic sensor component that utilizes advanced magnetoresistive (MR)*5 technology, with its head measuring 12 by 12 by 74 mm.
The Nivio™ xMR sensor component employs an MR element based on cutting-edge spintronics, which TDK has matured over the years through its experience manufacturing HDD heads. By precisely controlling the characteristics of the MR element and fine-tuning the structural design, TDK has been able to reduce the size and increase the sensor’s sensitivity to detect infinitesimal magnetic fields.
TDK’s Nivio™ xMR Sensor remains highly sensitive even at room temperature, potentially eliminating the need for large cooling systems, like those required with SQUID sensors. Additionally, it is not saturated by geomagnetic fields because of its wide dynamic range—thus potentially enabling use in non-shielded rooms. The sensor component is anticipated to be utilized by device manufacturers for the development of smaller-scale, low-cost medical devices that measure biomagnetism.
Disclaimer: The NIVIO™ xMR sensor is intended for use solely by System Integrators, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and other third parties as a device component and is not a finished medical device. This component has not been authorized by FDA or other regulatory authorities for medical use. Such third parties are solely responsible for evaluating whether the NIVIO™ xMR sensor is suitable for use as a component in their devices and are further responsible for ensuring that their use of the NIVIO™ xMR sensor component is in compliance with the applicable laws and for obtaining any required.
Proposing new uses for 3D visualization of cardiac activity
With Nivio™ xMR , multiple sensor components are placed in an array to detect biomagnetism over a large area. The prototype medical device component currently being planned is designed to visualize magnetocardiographic data in 2D by placing a unit lined with 36 sensors near the patient’s heart. By arranging sensors on two planes—top and side—it is anticipated that magnetocardiographic data may potentially be acquired from two directions and combined with MRI and CT images to display cardiac activity as 3D images.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) lists heart disease as number one among the top ten causes of death globally between 2000 and 2019, the heart is one of the most important measures of health in the human body. Advanced magnetocardiographic diagnostics—which has been limited to research laboratories and large-scale medical institutions—could potentially become low-cost and more accessible by utilizing TDK’s ultra-compact biomagnetic sensor component, Nivio™ xMR . Furthermore, TDK’s biomagnetic sensor components hold great potential to open up new industries. Their highly sensitive magnetic detection capabilities are expected to be applicable not only in medicine and healthcare, but in a diversity of other fields like the detection of metallic foreign objects and mineral exploration.
TDK’s Nivio™ xMR Sensors will be on display at RSNA 2021 (Radiological Society of North America) in Chicago from November 28 to December 2, 2021. For more information about the exhibition, please visit the RSNA 2021 website.
- Electrocardiograph: A device that records and displays the electrical potentials of the heart using electrodes attached to the surface of the body.
- Magnetocardiograph: A device used to measure and display the weak magnetic fields produced by cardiac activity using extremely sensitive magnetic sensors.
- Biomagnetism: A weak magnetic field produced by biological activities such as heartbeats, brain waves, and muscle movement.
- SQUID: Acronym of Superconducting Quantum Interference Device. A very sensitive device that uses superconductor technology to measure extremely weak biomagnetism.
- MR: Magnetoresistance. A phenomenon in which electric resistance is replaced by a change in the magnetic field. It is used in the reading element of HDD heads.