Microfluidically Cryo-Cooled Planar Coils for Magnetic Resonance Imaging
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High signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is typically required for higher resolution and faster speed in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Planar microcoils as receiver probes in MRI systems offer the potential to be configured into array elements for fast imaging as well as to enable the imaging of extremely small objects. Microcoils, however, are thermal noise dominant and suffer limited SNR. Cryo-cooling for the microcoils can reduce the thermal noise, however conventional cryostats are not optimum for the microcoils because they typically use a thick vacuum gap to keep samples to be imaged to near room temperature during cryo-cooling. This vacuum gap is typically larger than the most sensitive region of the microcoils that defines the imaging depth, which is approximately the same as the diameters of the microcoils. Here microfluidic technology is utilized to locally cryo-cool the microcoils and minimize the thermal isolation gap so that the imaging surface is within the imaging depth of the microcoils. The first system consists of a planar microcoil with microfluidically cryo-cooling channels, a thin N2 gap and an imaging. The microcoil was locally cryo-cooled while maintaining the sample above 8?C. MR images using a 4.7 Tesla MRI system shows an average SNR enhancement of 1.47 fold. Second, the system has been further developed into a cryo-cooled microcoil system with inductive coupling to cryo-cool both the microcoil and the on-chip microfabricated resonating capacitor to further improve the Q improvement. Here inductive coupling was used to eliminate the physical connection between the microcoil and the tuning network so that a single cryocooling microfluidic channel could enclose both the microcoil and the capacitor with minimum loss in cooling capacity. Q improvement was 2.6 fold compared to a conventional microcoil with high-Q varactors and transmission line connection. Microfluidically tunable capacitors with the 653% tunability and Q of 1.3 fold higher compared to a conventional varactor have been developed and demonstrated as matching/tuning networks as a proof of concept. These developed microfluidically cryo-cooling system and tunable capacitors for improving SNR will potentially allow MR microcoils to have high-resolution images over small samples.