The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) has submitted comments in response to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) request for information regarding risks to the current supply of helium. In its letter, MITA highlighted that a reliable helium supply is critical for the operation of MRI technology. According to MITA, helium is needed for periodic maintenance throughout the lifecycle of an MRI machine, as it creates the conditions needed for superconductivity in the device’s strong magnet.

The U.S. currently has more than 10,000 MRI systems installed, each requiring, on average, approximately 2,000 liters of liquid helium that must be periodically replenished, the alliance shared. If issues such as helium leakage arise in the machine, the system’s helium must be entirely replaced.

“Over the past decade, geopolitical challenges, climate change, privatization of the nation’s helium reserves, and an increase in demand have created shortages in the helium supply chain,” says Patrick Hope, executive director of MITA. “These challenges have resulted in high costs that threaten the healthcare industry’s ability to install new MRI systems and service the existing installed base.”

The tremendous expense of replenishing an MRI’s helium sometimes necessitates that the device be temporarily or permanently mothballed, leaving patients without access to this critical medical tool.

The letter acknowledged that although the medical device industry is creating innovative MRI technology that requires less helium, the medical sector will continue to require adequate helium quantities at a reasonable cost. To ensure that patients can access MRI technology, MITA recommends that policymakers earmark helium supplies for purchase.