Implications of New Scanner Research Called 'Profound'

The National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a $2 million High-End Instrumentation grant to UNC’s School of Medicine.

The grant is one of 20 such awards to research institutions nationwide to support the purchase of the latest generation of advanced research equipment.

The award will fund a 3 Tesla whole body magnetic resonance scanner to be housed in the University’s Biomedical Research Imaging Center.

The scanner will be fully dedicated to research for a variety of studies on campus funded by the NIH, said Weili Lin, professor and vice chairman of basic research in the department of radiology, deputy director of the Biomedical Research Imaging Center and a member of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Among the projects are three studies of brain development. One, of which Lin is principal investigator, will develop dedicated imaging hardware and software for use with very young normal children without sedation. The results will allow a detailed characterization of normal brain development.

Another project, headed Dr. Joseph Piven, Sarah Graham Kenan professor of psychiatry and director of the Carolina Institute of Developmental Disabilities, will obtain brain images of infants at high risk for an autism spectrum disorder. Siblings of autistic individuals will be studied via magnetic resonance imaging and behaviorally at the ages of 6 months, 12 months and 24 months old.

The third study proposes to delineate brain development in normal 1- and 2-year-olds. This project will provide critical, currently unavailable information about early brain development and ultimately is expected to provide the basis for future studies of neurodevelopmental disorders in this age group. The project’s principal investigator is Dr. John Gilmore, professor of psychiatry and vice chairman for research and scientific affairs.

“These pediatric projects will benefit from the new whole body [magnetic resonance] scanner through reduced data acquisition time and improved image quality, enhancing our ability to examine developing brains,” Lin said.

The new scanner will reduce the time it takes to obtain magnetic resonance images from about 30 minutes to less than 10 minutes, making the procedure more tolerable for the patient, he added.

“The clinical implications with the improved ability of the new system are profound,” Lin said. “With imaging as a key component of the University’s Translational and Clinical Science Institute funded by our recent National Center for Research Resources Clinical and Translational Science Award, the new scanner will greatly improve the ability to directly translate research imaging projects into the clinical arena.”

To qualify for a High-End Instrumentation award, institutions must identify three or more NIH-funded investigators whose research requires the requested instrument. These grants provide a maximum of $2 million each.

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