Helium shortage prompts new sense of urgency in medical imaging community

NBC News recently reported that healthcare experts are increasingly concerned about the global helium shortage and its impact on the field of magnetic resonance imaging. Helium is essential to keep the MRI machine cool while it is running. Without it, the scanner cannot operate safely. But in recent years, global helium supply has attracted a lot of attention, and some suppliers have started rationing the non-renewable element.

Although this has been going on for a decade or more, the latest news cycle on the topic seems to add to the sense of urgency. But for what reason?

As with most supply problems over the past three years, the pandemic has inevitably left some marks on the supply and distribution of helium. The Ukrainian war also had a major impact on the supply of helium. Until recently, Russia was expected to supply as much as a third of the world’s helium from a large production facility in Siberia, but a fire at the facility delayed the facility’s launch and Russia’s war in Ukraine has further exacerbated its relationship with the U.S. trade relations. All of these factors combine to exacerbate supply chain problems.

Phil Kornbluth, president of Kornbluth Helium Consulting, shared with NBC News that the U.S. supplies about 40 percent of the world’s helium, but four-fifths of the country’s major suppliers have started rationing. Like suppliers recently embroiled in iodine contrast shortages, helium suppliers are turning to mitigation strategies that include prioritizing industries with the most critical needs, such as healthcare. These moves have yet to translate into the cancellation of imaging exams, but they have already caused some well-known shocks to the scientific and research community. Many Harvard research programs are shutting down entirely due to shortages, and UC Davis recently shared that one of their providers cut their grants in half, whether for medical purposes or not. The issue has also caught the attention of MRI manufacturers. Companies such as GE Healthcare and Siemens Healthineers have been developing devices that are more efficient and require less helium. However, these techniques are not yet widely used.

Post time: Oct-28-2022