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Research capacity at the University of
Delaware has taken another long stride forward with the April opening of the
Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging, the second major facility
added in as many months.
The new center, near the corner of Academy Street and East Delaware
Avenue, holds a 3-Tesla magnet, nearly 14 tons in weight a
cutting-edge instrument that offers high-resolution images and the
ability to do complex examination of brains, bones, and other biosystems
and brings powerful new possibilities to UD's investigators.
The strong magnetic field made possible by the new super-conducting
magnet combines with other features to enable the stability, pure
signal, and consistent results needed for useful neuroimaging.
"It's absolutely the best tool for doing this type of science," said
Kenneth Norman, a Princeton University professor who delivered a keynote
address on his pioneering fMRI research before the ribbon-cutting
"This is an incredibly exciting day for research at the University of
Delaware," said Charles Riordan, deputy provost for research and
scholarship. "This is a core facility of value to every one of the
seven colleges at this campus."
It was just a month earlier that researchers cut the ribbon on the new
University of Delaware Nanofabrication Facility. The UDNF, housed about a
block away in the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering
Laboratory, is a nanoscale workshop that allows for the most intricate
CBBI's powerful new magnet the Siemens Magnetom Prisma offers the
latest in imaging technology and is especially exciting to those
studying the brain because it provides images of real-time function,
showing researchers exactly where neurons are most active at any given
"I'm very interested in understanding how reward interacts with
attention and how it changes what we pay attention to," said Leeland
Rogers of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a graduate student in the
Perception and Learning Lab of Timothy Vickery, assistant professor of
psychological brain sciences. Vickery, a cognitive neuroscientist, has
traveled routinely to College Park, Maryland, to use the fMRI at the
University of Maryland in his research.
"It has been an incredible experience already working with Tim,"
Rogers said. "We're all kind of learning it together. There's a big
sense of community."
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No exposure to radiation or shots or other chemicals is necessary in
fMRI. It is non-invasive, accomplished by the powerful magnetic field
that interacts with radio waves and allows researchers to see the
changes in neural activity as a person views images or performs tasks.
The instrument measures blood flow, which is correlated with neural
activity. More oxygen is needed in areas where neural activity is high
and blood with higher oxygen levels has different magnetic properties
than blood with lower oxygen levels.
That doesn't mean a researcher can read your mind once you slide into
the machine's bore, almost two feet in diameter, where the magnetic
resonance imaging is done. But that might not be too far off, given a
sketch of recent research described by Princeton's Norman, who was part
of the pioneering team that developed an fMRI data analysis method
called "multivariate pattern analysis" or MVPA.
"It's basically mind-reading based on fMRI data," said Norman,
professor of psychology at Princeton's Neuroscience Institute. "We take
brain scans and guess what you're thinking."
Specifically, his lab studies learning and memory by looking for
patterns in brain activity that are related to specific thoughts and
The fMRI provides enormous quantities of data, but using that data in
valuable ways requires more than observation. Higher neural activity
does not mean anything unless the reason for increased activity is
understood. If the study goes from a blank screen to a face, for
example, and higher neural activity is noted, it might mean only that
the brain was interested in seeing something other than a blank screen.
But seeing a difference in activity between images of a boot and a face
or a scene and an object can provide meaningful information about how
the brain processes specific information.
The MVPA method uses pattern classification algorithms to deduce what
a person was viewing when the data were collected a shoe or a bottle,
for example. The overall accuracy of these computer analyses matching
pixel to pixel has reached about 96 percent, Norman said.
Norman also is exploring competing memories and how memory is
retrieved or inhibited work that could one day help clinicians treat
such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The capacity offered in CBBI goes well beyond brain science.
Dawn Elliott, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, said she
is "thrilled" to have MRI capacity for her lab's ongoing study of
intervertebral disc function and degeneration. Much of her study
involves human spine segments and also goat spines, whose disc size and
properties are similar to humans. In the goats she is gathering
preclinical data that measures how well a potential treatment is working
over time. If the treatment is successful, these data would be used as
part of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The new center is designed to accommodate animals, and Elliott said
it will offer much more statistical power for longitudinal studies.
Christopher Modlesky, associate professor of kinesiology and applied
physiology in the College of Health Sciences, will continue his studies
of the musculoskeletal system in children with cerebral palsy and other
"This has a lot of advantages," Modlesky said. "It is more powerful,
delivers higher quality images and now we can combine musculoskeletal
and brain imaging work."
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the ceremonial scissors went to
Robert Simons, professor and chair of UD's Department of Psychological
and Brain Sciences.
"Bob Simons was the driving force a bulldog and he continues to
be a bulldog for creation of this center," said his colleague, James
Hoffman, professor, interim director of CBBI and director of the
cognitive psychology graduate program at UD. "I'm pretty sure without
Bob Simons, this building wouldn't be here."
Several new faculty and fMRI experts have been drawn to the University by the new magnet.
Already on site is CBBI Manager John Christopher, who brings years of
technical expertise to UD from the University of Virginia and said that
for cancer research "there isn't anything better" than this fMRI
The new director of CBBI, Keith Schneider of York University in
Toronto, Ontario, will start in August. He was on hand for the
"The people here have done everything right," Schneider said. "They
made all the right decisions. With a brand new scanner and an
administration that is really supportive that will help people do
research. I'm anticipating heavy use."
Financial support for CBBI was provided by the University, the Unidel
Foundation, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Health
Sciences, and the College of Engineering.
When additional funding is available, the University hopes to add a
9-Tesla magnet to a dedicated space on CBBI's second floor and other
capacities ultrasound and micro-CT, for example to the adjacent
multimodal suite, making many other kinds of imaging studies possible.