Welcome to the Center for Image Acquisition!

This page provides general information and answers common questions for those coming to the CIA as a participant in a research study or for a clinical MRI scan. The equipment at the CIA allows for a wide range of possible scanning experiences, so for more specific information please contact the investigator conducting your study or your referring physician.

Where do I go?

The Center for Image Acquisition is located in the Stevens Hall for Neuroimaging:

Stevens Hall for Neuroimaging
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Building
2025 Zonal Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90033

Entrance and loading area on San Pablo Street
Large Map with printable link

Parking is available at metered spots on Zonal Avenue, Cummings Street, and San Pablo Street. Visitor parking is also available in the Biggy parking structure (Lot 8) at the corner of Zonal Avenue and Biggy Street, and may be reimbursed by the group conducting your study.

Is MRI scanning safe?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a safe technology.
The magnetic field and radiofrequency (RF) pulses employed in scanning do not involve ionizing radiation and do not interfere with biological function. The primary hazard comes from the strength of the magnetic fields involved.

MRI Uses very strong magnets.
Magnetic field strength is measured in units called Tesla, and the CIA houses scanners of 3 and 7 Tesla. A 3 Tesla magnet’s field is roughly 60,000 times the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, and roughly 3000 times as strong as a common refrigerator magnet. For this reason, metallic and ferromagnetic objects and devices pose a serious hazard if brought near the scanner, which would exert a strong attractive pull upon them. The field would also likely erase credit cards, bank cards and other forms of magnetic encoding.

Metal and magnetic objects must be kept away from the scanner.
Access to the areas affected by the magnetic field is restricted, and safeguards are in place to ensure that no metal encounters the field. The person conducting your study will provide you with additional information and answer questions you may have.
All scan participants, and those personnel conducting the scan, must remove all ferrous metal from their bodies, pockets, clothing etc before entering the scanner room.

Radiofrequency and magnetic field gradients can interact with tissues and objects.
There is a risk of heating from radiofrequency imaging coils, the cables of radiofrequency imaging coils, and/or the cables from monitoring devices. Please report any heating/burning sensation immediately.
There is a possibility that you will experience a localized twitching sensation due to the magnetic field changes during the scan. This is not unexpected and should not be painful.
Dizziness and nausea may occur momentarily when you head is moved in or out of the tunnel of the magnet. The sensation should disappear quickly. If not, you may discontinue scanning at any time.

The CIA is a research unit, not a diagnostic MRI center.
Most scans performed in normal human subjects are routine and without abnormalities. However, on occasion, though rarely, something abnormal may be present. These rare occurrences are called incidental findings. Because the CIA is not a clinical/diagnostic center, the CIA has no neuroradiologist staff members (medical doctors who can comment on MRI scans), and therefore we cannot tell if your scan shows or does not show any abnormality. If you have been referred to the CIA by a physician for a clinical scan, all questions about your scan results should be directed to your healthcare team and not the CIA staff.

What should I expect to happen at my scan?

The following video, produced by the American College of Radiology, is a good introduction to MRI scanning.

How do I prepare for my scan?

MRI scans do not require special preparation such as fasting, injections, or ingesting tracers. Depending upon your study, you will be lying in the scanner itself for anywhere from half an hour to longer than two hours, so taking steps to ensure your comfort during that time (and your ability to do so in a continuous session without needing to exit the scanner unnecessarily) will make the process go more smoothly. Try to be well-rested prior to the scan, and please abstain from drinking large quantities of liquid preceding your allotted time to minimize the need for breaks.

The MRI machine is a Siemens full-body “close” scanner with a large (60cm diameter) opening. You will be asked to lie inside the opening on a long couch with soft padding and leg-rest for 1-2 hours per session while the machine gathers information. During this time, you will be exposed to a magnetic field and radio waves. You will hear repetitive tapping noises. You will be required to wear earplugs and earphones to reduce the noise.

As the magnetic field presents the greatest hazard, to prepare for your scan, you will be screened for magnet-related hazards.

It is very important that you notify the researcher of any metal objects, devices or implants that are in or on your body before entering the magnet room. This includes biomedical devices such as pacemakers and aneurysm clips, prostheses, and other metallic objects embedded in the body such as bullets, buckshot, shrapnel, and any metal fragments from working around metal.

Remove all metallic objects before entering the magnet room or approaching the magnet to prevent them from becoming a projectile or being pulled by the magnet. This included keys, jewelry, pocketknives, money clips, paper clips, safety pins, hairpins, and barrettes. In addition, objects such as watches, credits cards, and hearing aids could be damaged in the presence of the magnetic field. A locker will be provided for you to secure all your items and valuables.

For your convenience, a copy of the Metal Screening Form, which you will fill out with the person conducting your scan, may be found here: Metal Screening Form.

Additional information about contraindications for MRI may be found in the CIA Safety Policy, here.

Tattoos may contain magnetic material and may become unpleasantly warm during a scan. Please discuss any tattoos with the person conducting your scan.

Surgical Implants and Devices or other metal inside the body may pose a health risk and be grounds for excluding you from being scanned. Please discuss any metal inside your body with the person conducting your scan.

If you are pregnant, though there are no known biological effects of MRI on fetuses, there are a number of mechanisms that could potentially cause adverse effects as a result of the interaction of electromagnetic fields with developing fetuses. Cells undergoing division, which occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy are more susceptible to these effects. The CIA Policy is that all female participants will be required to complete the pregnancy-related questions on the MRI screening form. If the participant is uncertain of her pregnancy status, the imaging study will be delayed until she has received her next menstrual period or decides she is not pregnant. If the participant is determined to be pregnant, the MRI will not be performed, unless the study itself is specifically designed to investigate pregnancy with IRB approval.

Dental work is not usually a problem, but specifics should be discussed with the person conducting your scan.

If you wear glasses (or contacts), you should remove them for your scan. We will provide you with MR compatible glasses to wear instead. Most people find it easier to remove their glasses than to take off contact lenses at the time of the scan.

Refraining from wearing eye makeup is a good idea. Some mascara, for example, contains tiny bits of metal that can move in the magnetic field and irritate your eyes or skin.

Try to wear comfortable clothing made of natural fibers, like cotton. Some work out or yoga pants are known to have synthetic fibers that may heat up in the scanner; avoid if possible. If clothing is an issue at the time of scan, the CIA provides hospital gowns (and blankets).

Avoid clothing with metal on it or in it, including bras with an underwire. Zippers (such as those on jeans) are fine, but chains are not. Loops formed by conductive materials can have currents induced in them by the magnetic field and RF pulses.

Your comfort is important. Whether you are partaking in a research study or undergoing a clinical scan, please communicate your needs, feelings and condition to the person conducting your scan. You will be shown a squeeze ball device that will allow you to alert the personnel of any problem that arises, and the intercom system will allow you to communicate with the person conducting your scan.

For a printable flyer with reminders of these tips and a map to our facility, click here.

What happens to my information and my scan?

If you were scanned as part of a research study, unless the person conducting your study has elected otherwise, your MRI scans will have your personally identifying information removed and then will be sent to the USC Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI) for long-term storage in a secure database, the Image and Data Archive, that houses data from thousands of scans from centers all over the world. Your data will be labeled with a coded research identifier, not traceable back to you, to protect your identity.

The researchers conducting your specific study will be responsible for deciding whether your data will be used for future research, how it will be shared, and in ways it can be used. These decisions are made in accordance with their agreements with their respective Insitutional Review Boards and with the informed consent of participants like you. Should your data be shared with other researchers, all links to your identity will be removed from the data beforehand. Only de-identified data is stored and shared for further research.

Aggregating data from scans all over the world, researchers are able to increase the statistical power of their investigations, and are able to discover effects and trends that would otherwise be too subtle to be noticed. For more information about The Image and Data Archive, see ida.loni.usc.edu.