Oculus and Facebook Executive Director of Engineering Mary Lou Jepsen will join the startup Open Water to work on wearable MRI machines. Mary Lou’s new startup is aimed at helping doctors detect heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with hi-resolution, affordable and portable MRI devices.

Portable MRI

Jepsen has worked for a large number of big name tech giants such as Google, Intel and Ex-Facebook Executive Working On A Portable MRIMIT Media Lab, and her decision came as no surprise since many high profile Silicon Valley tech execs are moving to the illustrious world of wearable healthcare technology.

Jepsen’s idea materialized 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with brain cancer, a battle she is still fighting today. Jepsen dreams for the day when her technology will be available for every doctor in the world to use. Talking to Xconomy, Jepsen said, “My big bet is we can use that manufacturing infrastructure to create the functionality of a $5 million MRI machine in a consumer electronics price-point wearable. And the implications of that are so big.” The former Facebook executive is quite hopeful of her idea and believes that the advancements in smartphones, tablets and Virtual Reality (VR) will eventually make her dream a reality.

Open Water will advance the work done by the team of researchers at UC Berkley that previously developed a database of the human brain’s reactions to images. The technology used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze MRI brain scans and calculate what the person was thinking. The startup’s future goals include assisting stroke patients to talk and create brain-prosthetic interfaces for amputees, among many others.

Jepsen has also hinted that she will use similar technology to communicate with animals. She says that little is known about the way animals communicate with each other and with humans, so she is looking to scan animal brains and explore the images they are thinking of.

“So little is known. Dolphins are supposed to be really smart—maybe we can collaborate with them.”

Jepsen desperately wants to up the ante and is looking to dig deeper into the mysteries of the human brain. She believes that brain waves technology will become so advanced that a movie director imagining a scene in his mind will be able to transfer the scene into a computer using his thoughts. Alternatively, a musician thinking of a complex musical composition will be able to compose a complete song using his thoughts.

What Is MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive diagnostic test that takes detailed images of the soft tissues in the body. Unlike a CT scan, which uses X-rays to capture images, MRI captures images using magnetic field, radio waves and a computer. MRI selects images slice by slice, meaning that it can take images of different layers of tissue thus helping diagnose strokes, tumors and bone fractures.

How Does MRI Work?

Our body is made up of millions of magnetic hydrogen atoms. When we are placed inside an MRI machine, the atoms align with the magnetic field whilst the radio waves push the atoms away and change their polarity. The MR sensor detects the time it takes for the hydrogen atoms to return to their normal state of alignment. Hence MRI measures the water content of tissues in the body. The computer processes the different characteristics of the tissues and presents them in a black and white image, showing detailed characteristics of the tissue and can detect even the smallest of abnormalities.

The images are individually captured and each slice is about one inch in thickness. The images can be rotated and viewed from any angle, giving the doctor a more accurate representation of the anomaly. Finally, a dye is injected into the bloodstream, to highlight hard to detect tissue regions in the body. MRI can also be used to view arteries and other blood vessels. MRI cannot detect fluid that is in motion; therefore, a contrast dye containing gadolinium, a chemical element with metallic properties, is injected that highlights the blood vessels making them visible in MRI images.

What Are The Risks Associated With MRI Scans?

MRI scan is a non-invasive diagnostic technique. It has the advantage over other methods, such as CT scans, in that it does not use X-rays which may cause radiation poisoning. However, there are some risks involved in getting a MRI scan.

Presence of metal in the body, such as piercings, artificial heart valves, pacemakers, metallic joints may cause damage to the body or affect the result of MRI scans. Additionally, the contrast dye might be toxic to people with liver or kidney damage. Furthermore, the magnetic field of an MRI scanner can cause harm to fetuses of pregnant women.

If any of the above conditions is true, the physician must be informed beforehand.

Because of the risks, the time needed for scheduling, and the expense of a standard MRI scan, Jepsen is working tirelessly to develop a cheaper and portable MRI machine, which is one step further to achieving the goals set out by lifesaving technologies.