Medical imaging to benefit from BRAIN initiative funding

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Investment totalling $46 million has been announced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. The funding was divided between 58 projects to accelerate fundamental neuroscience research, including developing human brain imaging technology.

There are nine projects looking at next-generation human imaging, including one at the West Virginia University, headed by Dr Brefczynski-Lewis, which aims to engineer a wearable PET scanner that images activity of the human brain while the person is in motion – while taking a walk in the park, for instance.

Elsewhere, David Feinberg, a UC Berkeley adjunct professor of neuroscience, and collaborators at the University of California, San Francisco, Harvard and Duke universities, will receive $1.4 million over three years to increase the spatial resolution of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) by more than 30 times over today’s MRI scanners.

Professor Feinberg is developing a technique called MR Corticography (MRCoG) or cortical MRI, which would be able to image features as small as 200µm. This would be important for studying the grey matter or cortex in the outer 3mm of the brain, where thinking and learning takes place.

‘MR Corticography … synergistically and cleverly combines cutting edge hardware and software technologies that are being pursued by the various experts on this project to allow us to achieve the very challenging goal of creating microscale MR imaging,’ said colleague Kawin Setsompop, an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Clinical applications of the MRCoG technology include traumatic brain injury, autism and epilepsy, according to Pratik Mukherjee, a clinical neuroradiologist and professor of radiology and bioengineering at UCSF and the San Francisco Veterans Administration hospital.

‘The improved clarity of the cortical imaging promises to improve the diagnosis and surgical evaluation of many forms of epilepsy by better identifying the abnormal cellular architecture in the grey matter that triggers seizures,’ Mukherjee said. ‘This should help the neurosurgeon to resect all of the abnormal region and thereby prevent or at least greatly reduce any further seizures, while sparing nearby normal brain areas that would result in post-operative deficits if removed.’

A $12 million public-private collaboration between Zeiss and UC Berkeley to support the Berkeley Brain Microscopy Innovation Center (BrainMIC) has also been announced. Thanks to the collaboration with Zeiss, the BrainMIC at UC Berkeley will be able to fast-track microscopy development for emerging neurotechnologies and will run an annual course to teach researchers how to use the new technologies.

The BRAIN initiative is a large-scale effort in the US to further the understanding of a variety of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. Four federal agencies — NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — committed more than $110 million to the initiative for the 2014 fiscal year.

NIH director, Dr Francis Collins, commented: ‘There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible. These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain.’

Further information:

The BRAIN initiative

UC Berkeley


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