Magnetic Resonance Legislation

An EU directive that will become UK law by 2008, could stifle cutting edge research that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see how medical treatments are working. The new legislation restricts the amount of time MRI operators are allowed to use the equipment each day.

Speaking at the “Science and Health” meeting this evening (March 29), Professor Penny Gowland of Nottingham University explained that, “The guidelines that will be imposed by the directive are overcautious and based on sparse scientific evidence. MRI is non-invasive and poses no known health risks.”

She added that the MRI community is seriously worried that the new occupational safety limits will not only curb the development of new research and medical treatments that use MRI but increase the reliance on other techniques, such as X-rays and nuclear medicine that are known hazards.

MRI produces detailed images of the body using magnetic fields and radio waves. With almost 500 MRI scanners currently being used in UK hospitals, a million examinations can be performed each year. That figure is set to increase as the government has recently invested around £100 million in over 100 new scanners. However, the new EU legislation could mean countless MRI-hours go to waste.

Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, joint organisers of the meeting, said, “MRI is a revolutionary, physics-based imaging technique. The Institute together with four other scientific organisations, has written to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to highlight our concerns over the proposed restrictions and the effects they will have both on research into and the treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer. We have written to Vladimir Spidla, the commissioner for social affairs at the European Commission to call upon the Commission urgently to review this directive.”

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