University anticipates big impact from MRI center

Published: Feb 5, 2010 1:00:00 AM
Media Contact: Ed Enoch, cenoch@oanow.com,

Gouge and Bundy greet

Jeffrey Bundy, vice president, MRI, Siemens Healthcare, is introduced to trustee Sam Ginn, left, by Auburn University President Jay Gogue, right.

Picture taken by Cliff Williams | Opelika-Auburn News

The governor and Auburn University officials predict a new $21 million magnetic resonance imaging center, which broke ground Thursday, will enhance the university's research capabilities, improve the quality of life in the region and drive economic development.

"This is a day when you are beginning to do something that will have a huge impact on this state, this nation, this world," Gov. Bob Riley said to a crowded room in Building One in the Auburn University Research Park, overlooking the muddy footprint of the MRI center.

Riley said the center, which should be completed in September, is a model for the nation's place in a future world economy.

"I don't know of anything that speaks to economic development more than what we are doing today," Riley said.

Larry Benefield, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, said the center would largely be a collaboration between the university, Siemens Healthcare, which built the MRI machines, and the East Alabama Medical Center.

The three-floor, 45,000-square-foot facility will house a 3 Tesla scanner and a 7 Tesla scanner, which will be used by tenants, including AU researchers, Siemens, EAMC, The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Lab, the Auburn Department of Kinesiology, the Auburn Spine and Neurosurgery Center and Warren Innovation Inc.

AU professor Thomas Denney, director of the research center, said the increased field strength of the center's machines will allow researchers to see finer details on body scans. Denney said most hospitals have 1.5T scanners. Tesla is the unit measurement for the strength of the magnets used in the machines. While the 3T machine, which has Food and Drug Administration certification, will be used for clinical work, the center's 7T, one of 28 worldwide, will be used for research since it lacks FDA certification, Denney said.

Jeff Bundy, vice president, MRI, for Siemens, said Auburn's 7T scanner puts it years ahead of other institutions. Bundy said the company is already discussing future projects and agreements with the university.

"I can guarantee you this project has raised Auburn's profile in the MRI community," Bundy said.