Welcome!

IBM Cloud Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Ed Featherston, William Schmarzo

Blog Feed Post

How the world’s first open source MRI happened

You wouldn’t think that a hang gliding accident could start a revolution in medicine. But when a teenager fell 150 feet into a lake several years ago, the subsequent events that sparked a revolutionary new diagnostic method, what I am calling the first open source MRI. The story is a fascinating look at what one family can accomplish if they keep asking questions and getting the right people into a room to talk to each other.

MRIs are big proprietary machines made by a dozen large equipment manufacturers (such as Siemens, Hitachi and Toshiba) and cost plenty: think of them as what IBM mainframes of the 1980s were when PCs first started entering the corporate ecosystem. You have to train people how to operate them and interpret their scans, and once they are setup, you have to run them more or less continuously to realize the return on your investment. If your hospital or imaging center buys equipment from one vendor, you are pretty much locked into that vendor’s line of accessories and upgrades. And they are designed for very specific diagnostic situations. One of them that they aren’t very good at is looking at spinal cord abnormalities.

This is what Spencer Stein faced when he hit that lake after his hang gliding accident. His fall ended up giving him four spinal fractures, which he found after a week of living with back pain and going to the doctor. That was to be expected, given the height of his fall: he was lucky to be mobile. But what the doctors also found was a cavernous angioma, a series of blood clots inside his spine that he had since birth. The defect wasn’t related to the fall, just something that had been with him all his life, silent and symptom-free. The clots could stay that way, or they could bleed out and paralyze him instantly from the chest down.

Spencer had a tough choice; “I faced a dilemma. Leaving my defect alone, without surgery, could mean permanent loss of all bodily sensation, hideous neurological pain, or loss of functioning and movement in the lower half of my body. Yet an operation on this ultra-important, all-but-inaccessible part of my body could cause any of the same problems. It seemed like a no-win situation.” He wrote this for an article in the local San Diego newspaper this past summer chronicling his adventures.

As Spencer says, the fall was really a gift to learn about his birth defect. Without his fall, it would have never been discovered. So should he get the operation, or leave it alone? It wasn’t an easy decision. First, he had to find a surgeon who did many of these operations: this is a very highly specialized field, and only a few people actually do more than a few spinal operations a year of this nature. Second, many of the doctors Spencer saw didn’t want to do high-risk surgery on someone so young and otherwise so healthy, and said they wouldn’t dare operate. Spencer’s parents left the decision up to him. Can you imagine having to make the call of opening up a spinal cord on an extreme athlete?

Spencer with his parents visited a few of the doctors who specialize in this two-hour procedure, and eventually found one who was willing to proceed with the surgery in Arizona. That was great. But to really understand the structure of the clot, this doctor wanted better, higher-resolution pictures.

Back to the MRIs. Most of the machines that are available to the general public use 1.5 to 3 Tesla magnets (this is a measurement of magnetic force, named after the scientist that did a lot of early work, not the contemporary electric car company). Stein had a series of these MRIs to see what was going on inside his spine. But these images only told part of the story. The way to get to higher res images is to use a bigger magnet, just like our camera phones have a bigger image sensor in them.

It so happens that there is a 7 Tesla magnet at NYU Medical Center, but it was used for medical research unrelated to spinal imaging. No one had ever thought to use this research magnet in this way before.

That’s where Spencer’s dad came into our story. His dad made a few phone calls, and knew some of the leading edge diagnosticians in medical imaging. He managed to bring together people from bio-imaging, neurosurgery, and other clinicians to collaborate on how to use this magnet to take the right kind of spinal pictures.

Spencer’s dad is Lee Stein, someone that I have known for decades for his work in tech. Lee was part of the initial digital payments efforts in the mid-1990s, before there was a PayPal, before there was a Square, when paying for something online using a credit card was new. Now we take these things for granted, but back then Lee and a group of Internet pioneers assembled an elegant way to pay for things using nothing more than email. The effort never took off, but the founders of the firm laid the groundwork for how we pay for things online today.

I have written about Lee before, in another effort that he has been working on for several years called Prize Capital. As a result of this work, Lee became familiar with the TED Med community. (You can watch his TED Talk here :)

He is a very unassuming and modest man for someone who has led some pretty amazing technologic efforts over the years. “Spencer was no longer a patient, but a catalyst for forming a new center at NYU.” When I met up with Lee a few months ago, he told me that he just made a couple of phone calls. Yeah, right. The scan brought together many specialists who were able to cobble together this open source solution in real time, rather than years that it would have normally taken. As you can see in the TED video, the doctors are sitting together, hunched around the MRI monitor, sharing knowledge and ideas on the spot.

As a result of Spencer’s scan and his parents’ efforts, more than $22 million dollars was raised for this new center, including contributions from Siemens, the MRI vendor used at NYU. “It has been a remarkable experience for us as a family to see how NYU has come together to do this,” Lee says in his TED lecture.

The Steins brought together these very highly specialized doctors at NYU, and now they are figuring out ways to use the equipment for a variety of diagnoses of different diseases. It is quite thrilling.

However, the irony of all this is that the 7 Tesla images didn’t help Spencer’s situation. Turns out, the large blood clot concentrates iron molecules in one place, and the large amount of iron deflects the higher-intensity MRI beams so no additional information could be gleaned from these higher res pictures.

But Spencer went ahead with the operation, and fortunately it was successful. He is back in school at Cornell. The Stein family, being who they are, created a prize of $5,000 as part of an ongoing annual business plan competition held by the school.

Their prize is given for the business plan that best addressed issues of disability or environmental sustainability. The first one was given to an idea called EcoFishFeed that raises forager fish for feed at salmon aquaculture farms. The Stein Family Prize will continue to be a part of future Cornell business plan competitions.

It is a fitting testimonial to Spencer’s fall from the sky.


Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times, TechTarget.com, PC Week/eWeek, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and news.com, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.

@ThingsExpo Stories
IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effi...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
Big Data engines are powering a lot of service businesses right now. Data is collected from users from wearable technologies, web behaviors, purchase behavior as well as several arbitrary data points we’d never think of. The demand for faster and bigger engines to crunch and serve up the data to services is growing exponentially. You see a LOT of correlation between “Cloud” and “Big Data” but on Big Data and “Hybrid,” where hybrid hosting is the sanest approach to the Big Data Infrastructure pro...
"My role is working with customers, helping them go through this digital transformation. I spend a lot of time talking to banks, big industries, manufacturers working through how they are integrating and transforming their IT platforms and moving them forward," explained William Morrish, General Manager Product Sales at Interoute, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
With 15% of enterprises adopting a hybrid IT strategy, you need to set a plan to integrate hybrid cloud throughout your infrastructure. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steven Dreher, Director of Solutions Architecture at Green House Data, discussed how to plan for shifting resource requirements, overcome challenges, and implement hybrid IT alongside your existing data center assets. Highlights included anticipating workload, cost and resource calculations, integrating services on both sides...
"We are a well-established player in the application life cycle management market and we also have a very strong version control product," stated Flint Brenton, CEO of CollabNet,, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Unless your company can spend a lot of money on new technology, re-engineering your environment and hiring a comprehensive cybersecurity team, you will most likely move to the cloud or seek external service partnerships. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, revealed what you need to know when it comes to encryption in the cloud.
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
What are the successful IoT innovations from emerging markets? What are the unique challenges and opportunities from these markets? How did the constraints in connectivity among others lead to groundbreaking insights? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Carmen Feliciano, a Principal at AMDG, will answer all these questions and share how you can apply IoT best practices and frameworks from the emerging markets to your own business.
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Traditional IT, great for stable systems of record, is struggling to cope with newer, agile systems of engagement requirements coming straight from the business. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, William Morrish, General Manager of Product Sales at Interoute, outlined ways of exploiting new architectures to enable both systems and building them to support your existing platforms, with an eye for the future. Technologies such as Docker and the hyper-convergence of computing, networking and sto...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
With an estimated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, several industries will begin to expand their capabilities for retaining end point data at the edge to better utilize the range of data types and sheer volume of M2M data generated by the Internet of Things. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and President of Infobright, discussed the infrastructures businesses will need to implement to handle this explosion of data by providing specific use cases for filterin...
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? You need to discover patterns that are repeatable in vast quantities of data, understand their meaning, and implement scalable monitoring across multiple data streams in order to monetize the discoveries and insights. Motif discovery and deep learning platforms are emerging to visualize sensor data, to search for patterns and to build application that can monitor real time streams efficiently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, ...
Early adopters of IoT viewed it mainly as a different term for machine-to-machine connectivity or M2M. This is understandable since a prerequisite for any IoT solution is the ability to collect and aggregate device data, which is most often presented in a dashboard. The problem is that viewing data in a dashboard requires a human to interpret the results and take manual action, which doesn’t scale to the needs of IoT.
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 6thInternet of @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.