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[Alex Small/The Daily Pennsylvanian] Giant blue walls on the sidewalk on Spruce Street next to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania hide a new MRI machine.

On Spruce Street, across from Houston Hall, a huge magnet is attached to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Located on the sidewalk and housed in a trailer that is partially enclosed by blue siding, its purpose is to attract patients.

For the next six months, the sidewalk on Spruce Street and HUP's adjoining wall will be home to a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine.

College freshman Lisa Zhu does not know what to think of it.

"I always wondered what it was, but I thought it was ... some kind of building scaffolding," she said.

The machine is partially obscured by an array of large, blue panels, which enclose a makeshift passageway that serves as a conduit between the machine and the hospital.

Section Chief MRI Radiology at HUP Evan Siegelman is excited about the temporary MRI.

"It is there because of good news," he said. "We are going to put three new state-of-the-art [MRI machines] in."

The temporary unit adds to HUP's existing six machines. The plan over the next six months is to replace two older units in the hospital's Devon Building with three new units.

According to Radiology Department Chairman Nick Bryan, the new MRIs will offer advances in technique and clinical application, namely better heart and brain imaging in less time.

However, the installation of the new MRIs will come at a price. MRI technologist Jim Trunkwalter said that the construction, which has yet to start, could take up to a year. Meanwhile, the outpatient MRIs in Penn Tower will see increased use.

This is what makes the outdoor MRI extremely important.

"When these two magnets [in Devon] go down, there won't be a significant interruption in terms of patient care," Siegelman said, adding that the the Penn Tower MRIs will have evening hours -- also a feature of the temporary machine outside HUP.

MRI is a process whereby a temporary magnetic field is created by a huge magnet. The effects of the magnetism on the body's tissues is observed and displayed graphically in a process called "scanning."

Differences in a particular tissue's makeup will give differing images. These differences and their relationship to the characteristics of normal tissues help radiologists diagnose disease.

Typically, MRI is thought to be safer than other types of radiological imaging because it does not involve an ionizing radiation such as X-rays. Moreover, the amount of resolution in helping to distinguish images is far superior.

HUP is leasing the MRI units from California-based Alliance Imaging. Don Mackey, owner of Diagnostic Resource -- a similar MRI leasing company -- said that MRIs such as these serve as an interim solution, allowing hospitals to keep running when they are either acquiring a new system or updating an existing one.

HUP officials were unable to give exact figures for the cost of the lease and the new MRI machines.

However, Mackey estimated that the purchasing cost of a well-equipped, state-of-the-art MRI is between $1.3 and $1.6 million.

Construction of the new machines at Devon is not slated to begin until Nov. 1 and is projected to be completed next April.

Currently, the wait time to get an MRI can be up to a week, compared to one to two days for other imaging techniques. By obtaining additional units, HUP is hoping to meet increased demand.

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