September 2, 2009, Updated September 14, 2012

When they needed a non-electrical, state-of-the-art device to facilitate communication in the MRI room, top US companies turned to Israel for the solution.

We rely on electricity to power up most of our communications devices, but in some environments a different solution is required. On an oil rig, one spark can lead to a destructive inferno. And in a hospital MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) room, electrical interference disrupts both scanning and communications equipment.

Optoacoustics of Israel has what it describes as the only system available that enables effective communication in interventional MRI environments. With its device that uses the power of light to deliver sound, medical professionals can work smoothly and quietly during procedures and converse easily with both technicians and patients.

Since medical intervention using MRI scanners is increasingly common, the need to communicate with patients during procedures is becoming ever more important.

“It [MRI] gives off no radiation, unlike CTs and x-rays, and the resolution is high,” says Yuvi Kahana, CEO of Optoacoustics, who runs a slim and trim crew of seven based in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv.

Founded in 2006, the self-funded company has optical-based communications systems in about 250 centers around the world that help to sync brain imaging and speech.

Turning to Israel for solutions

That’s why, when faced with a serious need, companies like Siemens and the MD Anderson Center and organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approached the young Israeli company with a request to design a fiber optics communications device that would work in a “noisy” MRI room.

They wanted a device that would allow patients to communicate with their doctors, and doctors to communicate with each other and with technicians, that would also cancel out the “loud” and interfering noise frequencies emanating from the MRI scanners.

“There is a need for doctors to speak between themselves and sometimes they want to see if the patient can react,” Kahana tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s about saving lives.”

Optoacoustics rose to the challenge, delivering a headset, microphone and controls device that supports up to eight concurrent conversations and is immune to EMI/RFI noise, providing unheard of voice quality in the MRI room.

Optoacoustics started by commercializing optical transducers and optical microphones that use special membranes and optical transduction for communication. Then the company developed optical headphones, using light to deliver sound to the ear.

Meeting America’s needs

The company’s microphone-speaker communication tool, or Interventional MR Optical Communication System (IMROC), is now being used by the world-famous center MD Anderson in Texas.

In the new device at MD Anderson “a host of technologies work together including a special algorithm to reduce the noise,” says Kahana. “We put all the technologies together. Our aim is to provide noise reduction for the entire MRI community. Everything is tailor-made for these people.

“The NIH came to us because we sold our microphones already to brain research labs, explains Kahana, adding that at MD Anderson, “One hundred percent of the time they are using our system and say they can’t imagine running it without our communication…”

“Before, if the technologist needed to prescribe a technically complex scan or call cytology it was easier to leave the suite and go back to the control room. Now that we have IMROC, the technologist remains in the control room and is able to respond much more quickly to the needs of the radiologist during a procedure,” says Jason Stafford, an imaging physics specialist at MD Anderson.

Dr. Kamran Ahrar, the lead interventional radiologist at MD Anderson says that Optoacoustics’ system was an important step forward in the MRI room. “Using the communication system has improved our efficiency. We’re able to schedule and perform a larger number of interventions in our MRI suite since the installation of the IMROC,” he explains.

Beyond medical applications

Optoacoustics’ staff of engineers are veterans in the business who come with 25 years and up of experience. Key elements of the company’s products are designed, developed and manufactured in Israel.

Beyond the medical applications, among the target clients for the company are “trains, power utility companies and petrochemical plants where you don’t want electrical interference,” says Kahana.

Optoacoustics is hoping to find a strategic partner and open a US office to help grow its business.

The only anechoic chamber in Israel is operated by Optoacoustics. Inside the chamber, the company records acoustic measurements and performs experiments. In that soundproof room, if you scream no one will hear you. But thanks to this chamber, Optoacoustics is delivering tools that contribute to less screams in the hospital.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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