MSUToday
Published: July 24, 2007

MSU efforts to bring MRI unit to hospital in Malawi could save lives, advance research

Contact(s): Tom Oswald Communications and Brand Strategy oswald@msu.edu

EAST LANSING, Mich. Michigan State University physician Terrie Taylor says the work she does trying to solve the mystery of malaria may now be a bit easier with the donation of an MRI unit to the hospital she works at in Malawi. 

Taylor, an MSU University Distinguished Professor of internal medicine, spends the rainy season – January through June – working at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city, treating malaria patients and conducting research on a disease that kills as many as 3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa every year.

Through the efforts of James Potchen, an MSU University Distinguished Professor of radiology and chairperson of the department, the General Electric Corp. donated an MRI unit to the hospital. And even though it’s valued at more than $1 million, Taylor said the MRI unit will prove priceless in what it can bring to her work.

“This will help in so many ways,” she said. “We will use it for the research we do; we’ll be able to use it for everyday patients that come through the hospital, and it will help to attract and retain more doctors to Malawi.”

Currently, there is only one radiologist who serves the entire nation of Malawi. Another benefit of the new MRI unit is that it will allow that radiologist – Sam Kampondeni – to send images to MSU where radiologists will be able to assess and evaluate them.

“With this new MRI unit we will be able to serve as many as 18 patients per day,” he said.

The MRI unit will be the first in the country of Malawi. It will also serve the neighboring nations of Mozambique and Zambia, neither of which has an MRI unit.

In addition to the GE contribution, MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is where Taylor, an osteopathic physician, is on staff, is donating more than $400,000 to the project. These funds will be used for construction of the building which will house the MRI machine.

An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is an imaging procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. Among other things, these images can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue.

This is important in the research that Taylor does. To better understand how malaria can kill, she and her team are doing an autopsy study of children, hoping to identify how cerebral malaria affects the brain.

With the use of the MRI, they will be able to look at much of the brain activity while the patient is still alive.

“What this will do,” Taylor said, “is allow us to follow the process as it happens in the brain. It’s a huge advantage.”

So far, one of the most significant findings from Taylor’s study is  that about one-quarter of the children autopsied actually died of completely unrelated infections or diseases.

“This calls into question a lot of the work that’s been done on severe malaria to date,” she said. “The studies might have included patients who were not suffering from malaria at all, because the researchers were using case definitions that lacked precision.”

Taylor’s autopsy study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is also providing funding for the MRI project, including funds to cover some of the operating costs as well as the high-speed Internet connection.

It’s hoped the new facility will open for business in January 2008.

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