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I wonder whether the age of an MRI scanner (or how much it has been used) impact the quality of the scans. I.e., does the quality of the scans deteriorate as an MRI scanner gets older or more used?

A Rogue Ant. found this interesting article talking about MRI scanner "end of life", but it doesn't mention anything about image quality.

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This is more of a partial answer than a full answer.

First, it would be useful to understand the typical amount of time an MRI scanner is in service. A report from the European Society of Radiology suggests the typical MRI scanner has a useful lifetime of 8-12 years based on usage (2014. PMCI 4195838).

Some potentially useful data to address this question comes from a 2019 study of prostate MRI quality performed by Burn and colleagues (PMID 31296337). They found the following effect of scanner age:

Effect of scanner age

The influence of scanner age on image quality was assessed by comparing the two groups: MRI performed on scanners <7 years old (54 patients) and MRIs performed on scanners ≥7 years old (40 patients) and dichotomising image quality into diagnostic (image quality score ≥3) and non-diagnostic (score ≤2). For T2W, 80% were diagnostic in the newer scanner group, compared to 53% in the older scanner group (odds ratio 3.5, range 1.4–8.8, p=0.006). For DWI for the newer scanner group, 81% were diagnostic and in the older scanner group, 80% were diagnostic (odds ratio=1.2, range 0.3–5.9, p=0.8). The relationship between scanner age for each site and mean T2W overall quality score is shown in Fig 6, demonstrating an inverse correlation.

Graph of negative linear relationship between scanner age in years (range 0 to 14 years) and "mean T2W score per site"
Figure 6 from (Burns et al 2019. PMID 31296337) available here.

This seems to suggest higher quality images from younger scanners, at least for particular pulse sequences.

However, it is important to recognize that younger scanners are by definition newer models, and thus may have new and improved imaging algorithms. Indeed Burns and colleagues note this:

This clearly brings into focus the quality of the technique, particularly outside large academic centres and without access to latest-generation high-quality MRI systems and with limited scanner time.

So it is likely that at least some of this effect is based on the generation of the scanner, but it is still possible that there is some degradation of image quality over time.

Unfortunately, the authors do not discuss further. A paper by Giganti and colleagues mention the study but unfortunately do not provide additional insight (2022. PMID 34233502)

Another important aspect that should be taken into account is scanner age. Although this requires more investigation, Burn and colleagues have shown a significant difference in the quality of prostate MRI at a 7-year cut-off for scanner age and this is something that will need to be explicitly addressed in the next iteration of the PI-RADS recommendation.

To directly answer your question, we would need to assess image quality of scans taken from the same scanner over many years. However, I was unable to find any such study.

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  • Does that study discuss why image quality would suffer, i.e. what component of the scanner can deteriorate with age? I can't quite see which components would be affected. Electronics can fail, so that's why digital cameras or screens develop dead pixels, but MRI doesn't work like a camera, and presumably failing parts can be replaced. I'm not quite seeing a mechanism how quality would decay. Mar 15 at 9:56
  • @StephanMatthiesen The study doesn't really discuss it. Neither does a subsequent paper which describes the results (see edit). It may either be self-evident to the authors, but maybe they don't know either. One of the explanations for "end of life" is lack of replacement parts from the vendor, but apparently there are OEM parts suppliers.
    – Ian Campbell
    Mar 15 at 13:06
  • Thanks. Of course often "end of life" just means that the manufacturer does not guarantee support any more, so spare parts may not be available any more and there's a much larger risk the equipment can't be serviced or repaired if it breaks. But in that case I'd imagine it just stops working, not that image quality deteriorates over time, so it's a bit of a different issue. Mar 15 at 13:55
  • Do MRI scanners have to be calibrated or adjusted regularly in some way? I could imagine, if the company stops servicing the scanner, then slowly things get out of alignment or electronic components start to drift. I don't have practical experience with MRI scanners, but many other complex devices have to be recalibrated regularly; they will have some internal knobs or programme parameters that have to be set to new values. This may only be possible with manufacturers software or inside knowledge, so once servicing stops, they deteriorate. Mar 15 at 14:01

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