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Open-source hardware for medical diagnostics

PTBnews 3.2020
Especially interesting for

physicians, hospitals


companies in the field of medical technologies

circular economy

Within the scope of an international cooperation project, PTB is participating in the development of a low-cost MRI scanner whose technological details will all be published as open-source hardware (OSH). The first images recorded by means of such OSH-MRI scanners are now available.

Hardware components of an open-source low-field MRI scanner: pulse generator, high-frequency amplifier, emitter/receiver switch with receiver pre-amplifier, excitation coil, gradient amplifier, x-, yand z-gradient coils for spatial encoding and MR magnets with field-homogenization inserts. A head phantom serves to illustrate the dimensions. The structural design plans will be published and made accessible to everyone for free; they will also be released for non-exclusive (even commercial) use.

MRI scanners are powerful devices in medical diagnostics. They allow nearly all parts of the body to be examined non-invasively. At the same time, MRI is a low-risk technology for patients and has established itself as the “gold standard” among diagnostic procedures in many fields of application. Unfortunately, this is also a complex and cost-intensive technology, so that patients are often not granted immediate access to it.

To meet this challenge, PTB is taking part in an international cooperation project with the aim of setting up a low-cost OSH-MRI scanner and performing a conformity assessment in accordance with international standards. OSH means that absolutely all of the structural design plans, electrical circuits and software of the device are available to everyone for free and will also be released for non-exclusive use (also commercial). This facilitates not only replication, but also marketing approval. From a scientific viewpoint and from the perspective of a metrology institute such as PTB, accurate and reliable measurements are the main objective. An MRI scanner measures data from the body of a patient. To date, the technologies used had not been accessible, often making independent safety-critical analysis difficult. With its broad developer basis, where all individual elements are accessible to all, an open-source approach opens up unexpected innovation potential. It is planned to use such a low-field OSH-MRI scanner, among other things, to diagnose hydrocephalus in children in Uganda.

The OSH-MRI scanner, which was developed and built at PTB in cooperation with Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), has realized its first set of measurements on phantoms. A second OSH-MRI scanner built in Leiden has already provided the first in-vivo images of the brain and of the knee.

Besides technological developments such as the construction of low-field MR magnets or high-frequency electronics, PTB is also involved in normative work on the first OSH standard document worldwide. This is important to enable quality control for OSH. In order to strengthen sustainability with the focus on a circular economy, repairing and recycling of OSH will be included in the future. Especially in the context of worldwide, publicly funded health systems, OSH offers possibilities to cut costs, to harmonize safety-relevant analyses, and to enhance products that improve the quality of life of patients all over the world.


Lukas Winter
Department 8.1 Biomedical Magnetic Resonance
Phone: + 49 30 3481-7573
Opens local program for sending emaillukas.winter(at)ptb.de

Scientific publication

L. Winter, R. Pellicer-Guridi, L. Broche et al.: Open source medical devices for innovation, education and global health: Case study of open source magnetic resonance imaging. In Co-Creation (pp. 147–163). Springer, Cham. (2019)