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New MRI machine at Dell Children’s expanding care doctors can provide in Austin

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman
The new 3T MRI machine at Dell Children's was built in a space that had been shelled out when the hospital was built in 2007 for additional machines. It's a $5.3 million investment for the machine and the installation.

Starting this month, the doctors at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas can now see the brain and other parts of the body more clearly.

They now have the option of using a 3T MRI. That magnetic resonance imaging machine has a magnet that is twice as strong as the standard 1.5T, which means that doctors can see finer details, says Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Dell Children’s. (The T stands for Tesla, the measurement of magnetic flux density, not the car or the man.)

In areas where doctors are looking at big issues, seeing those details is not as important, but in places where they are looking at subtleties, it matters, she says.

“It’s not just that stronger magnet,” Tyler-Kabara says. “We also took advantage to acquire and have access to have all of the high-end imaging protocols available.”

That includes being able to pair MRI with spectroscopy to understand the level of chemicals in the brain. It’s not just about structure, but about function, she says.

In brain tumors, that can help doctors understand what areas are high-grade tumors versus low-grade tumors versus not a tumor at all. They can see more clearly where the tumor is, what structures are involved and from which direction they need to approach the tumor when they operate.

“It can influence our clinical decisions with a noninvasive technique,” Tyler-Kabara says. In a recent case, she says, “the 3T led us to draw good conclusions about what the right approach is. We could trust what we saw on the images.”

It also allows Dell Children’s doctors to perform more complicated brain surgeries, including those at the base of the skull. In the past, doctors have had to send those cases to surgeons who specialize in adults or to pediatric hospitals outside of Austin.

In kids who have had strokes, they can pair this MRI with a perfusion study to look at vascular imaging and understand how the blood is flowing. That helps doctors understand what part of the brain is injured and understand what Tyler-Kabara calls the “in-between areas”

“It gives us this idea of what’s salvageable or savable when we are looking at stroke interventions,” she says. It also helps inform doctors when they make a prognosis.

With the 3T, doctors are able to look at kids with epilepsy and see where the abnormality is, increasing the possibility of a seizure-ending surgery.

“We’re busy really building and trying to have a state-of-the-art epilepsy program,” Tyler-Kabara says. “I see this really helping us pull the program up a notch by having that capability.”

The 3T MRI is a $5.3 million investment and part of the $700 million expansion for technology, facilities and medical teams that is happening at Dell Children’s in the next three years. The Dell Children’s Foundation is also raising money for the “Here” campaign to allow Central Texas children to stay here for treatment. That campaign has a $30 million matching grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

The Dell Children’s Specialty Pavilion, a four-story, 161,000-square-foot building to the east of the hospital, is under construction and will house the medical offices for the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, the Neurosciences Center of Excellence, and the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center of Excellence, as well as a new Fetal Center. That $113 million project is expected to open in April.

The hospital also has a $209 million expansion to build a fourth tower, which will add 72 beds and is expected to open in December 2023.

Dell Children’s plans to build a second hospital with 36 beds and a medical office building next door in November 2022. The $191.8 million project will be at the southeast corner of the 183-A tollway and Avery Ranch Boulevard.

Dell Children’s 3T MRI is not the only one in town. The other ones are in adult hospitals or imaging centers. Tyler-Kabara says that while they’ve been able to order these scans at those centers, if a child needed to be sedated, it was more of a challenge. Now they will have a pediatric team to do the scan and sedation.

They also can use it with patients who are already in the hospital or being seen in the medical offices nearby. For patients who come in through the emergency room, Dell Children’s now has the ability to get the imaging needed as part of the initial case.

“It adds to convenience for our families knowing that it's right here, they don't have to do this at a later time, and they don't have to wait a month and a half to get it done,” Tyler-Kabara says.

She believes now that the 3T MRI is here, “you’re going to find that the number of requests for this MRI is going to escalate really quickly.”