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The Gaab Lab for Developmental Neuroscience

MRI Safety

Nadine and Viella at the mock scanner in Waltham

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a common medical procedure used in hospitals and clinical settings in all age groups- from newborns to the elderly. It has been used with infants for over 20 years, and is fully approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). MRI uses a strong magnet to produce images of the body, and is considered biologically harmless. No radiation is used. There are no known harmful side-effects associated with temporary exposure to the magnetic field used by MRI machines.
In order to go inside the MRI room, you and your child must be metal-free.
Since MRI uses a strong magnet, metal objects are not allowed inside the MRI room. This includes clothing with metal buttons, zippers, etc. If you wish to stay inside the room with your child, we ask that you bring or wear metal-free clothing. We will check to make sure that you and your child are metal-free with a metal detector.

People with metal inside their bodies and pregnant women are also not allowed inside the MRI room. This includes: braces
2.permanent dental retainers
3.cochlear implant
4.aneurysm clip
5.metal fragments in the eye
8.cardiac pacemaker
9.glasses with metal frames
10. some intrauterine devices - check with us!
*If you bring your prescription, we can provide you with a temporary pair of glasses that are MRI-safe.

We will help your child fall asleep naturally before the scan. No sedation or anesthesia will be used.
In a clinical setting, infants are typically sedated or anesthetized before an MRI exam because even a slight degree of head motion from the patient can degrade the acquired brain image. At The Children’s Hospital Boston, we have developed a well-established protocol to carry out MRI with infants without using sedation or anesthesia, therefore increasing the safety and efficiency of the procedure. We help infants fall asleep naturally, so that they can sleep safely through the study.
Some features of our protocol include:
--> A private nursery room set up to allow your child to be fed and fall asleep naturally.
--> Extra protective headphones to provide excellent ear protection for your child.

Nadine and Viella wait to go in the scanner room

About fMRI

fMRI stands for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An fMRI scanner is a very large magnet that uses a safe, non-invasive magnetic field to take a picture of the brain while it is working.

The brain is made up of about 1 trillion tiny nerve cells called neurons. When the brain is working, these neurons send and receive signals to each other. The more they send and receive signals, the more oxygen they need from the blood flowing around in the brain. This means that areas of the brain with heavily signaling neurons get more blood flow. fMRI uses a magnetic field to measure increases in blood flow all over the brain. This way, the fMRI scan allows us to see what areas of the brain are working harder than others.

fMRI is a great technique for understanding how the brain works. By having people perform simple tasks during the scan (such as listening to sounds or looking at pictures) we can see how the brain responds. So far, fMRI has enriched our understanding of various brain diseases and disorders as well as how the normal brain works and develops. Eventually, these discoveries will deepen our understanding of the healthy brain and help us diagnose and treat persons with brain disorders.

Getting an fMRI

Getting an fMRI is safe and painless. During the scan, you lie down for about 30-45 minutes with your head resting in a small compartment. The compartment has a mirror above it that shows you a projection from a computer screen. You will also be wearing earplugs and/or headphones. The mirror and headphones are for you to participate in audio and/or video tasks. The scanner makes knocking and beeping sounds while it is working, but the earplugs and/or headphones will protect your ears. We will give you a button that you can press if you need to let us know that you are uncomfortable in the scanner.

It is important to note that the head compartment is quite small. People with claustrophobia or discomfort in tight spaces are discouraged from participating.

If you would like to see exactly what the scanner looks like, please visit our Kids Area.

Can anyone get an fMRI scan?

Brain facts

Want to learn more about the brain? is a great place to find out more.