Getting a brain scan could be as simple as putting on a bike helmet if a team of Kiwi and global researchers are successful.
Victoria University of Wellington scientists are part of a team of US and Brazilian researchers awarded US$10.8 million to build smaller MRI brain scanners.
MRI machines allow doctors to see images of people's internal organs and are one of the best "tools currently available to study neurology", Victoria University senior engineer Ben Parkinson said.
However, the machines are large, expensive and cumbersome for patients climbing inside them.
This puts patients "in an unnatural and confined space, where they can't respond to stimuli in a normal way, and the range of activities they can perform is very limited", Mr Parkinson said.
Researchers want to build MRI scanners that plug into a wall socket and are more like motorbike helmets fitting over a person's head and allowing them to sit comfortably.
But the challenge is finding a way to keep the magnet in the scanners cool without using liquid helium.
Mr Parkinson said a standard hospital MRI machine requires 1700 litres of liquid helium to keep the magnet at a low enough temperature to work and produce high quality images.
"This creates a number of challenges - a lot of infrastructure, energy and space is required to run the machine," he said.
"Liquid helium is also not only expensive, but in short supply, so we need to look for alternatives."