National Institute of Standards and Technology, www.nist.gov

Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a device for calibrating MRI machines that is traceable to standardized values. The phantom patient, nicknamed Phannie, consists of a plastic sphere about the size of a human head. It is filled with water-bathed grids containing 100 smaller plastic spheres filled with various salt concentrations that react to magnetic fields. Scans of Phannie will let users consistently evaluate image contrast, resolution, and the accuracy of distance and volume measurements. Phannie will also let health-care institutions track performance of their MRI machines for comparison with others. Finally, it will let radiologists make more-accurate, quantitative measurements of tumors and other disease markers that can be reproduced across different patients, scanners, and clinics, which could cut medical costs.

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