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This portable, affordable new MRI machine is already saving lives around the world

“The sickest patients, in the ICU, can’t be wheeled anywhere,” says entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg. He decided to build one that could come to them.

This portable, affordable new MRI machine is already saving lives around the world

After founding and selling two DNA sequencing companies for a combined at least half a billion dollars in the early 2000s, serial entrepreneur and inventor Jonathan Rothberg took on the challenge of bringing medical imaging to the two-thirds of the world that don’t have it. Rothberg, the founder of biomedical accelerator 4Catalyzer, took a team of scientists and engineers out on his yacht/floating laboratory and told them they couldn’t return until they figured out how to make an affordable MRI machine that you could wheel into a patient’s room. In February 2020, the resulting product, Hyperfine’s Swoop system, became the first portable, bedside MRI machine cleared by the FDA for imaging the heads of patients over the age of 2. (It was later cleared for younger children, too.) At $50,000, 20 times cheaper than a traditional MRI machine, the Swoop has already sold nearly 50 units to date, shipping as far as Pakistan and Uganda. Leveraging innovations in semiconductor design that Rothberg pioneered in a handheld ultrasound device called the Butterfly iQ, the Swoop MRI uses  a lower-strength magnetic field than a fixed MRI machine and plugs into a standard wall outlet; combined with a unique system for preventing radio frequency interference, that means it can be used in any hospital setting. Traditional MRI machines can only be used inside a specially shielded room. “The sickest patients, in the ICU, can’t be wheeled anywhere,” Rothberg says.  In its emergency rollout to hospitals in New England last year, the Swoop was able to detect COVID-related neurological abnormalities in unconscious patients. In January, the FDA cleared Hyperfine’s deep-learning software to identify telltale indicators of stroke or traumatic brain injury. The company raised $90 million in a February 2021 Series D round and announced a SPAC merger with HealthCor Catalio Acquisition Corp in July; Rothberg now aims to integrate portable MRI with robotic surgery, starting with MRI-guided robotic biopsies.

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