University of Minnesota receives two NIH grants originating from President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) is among the first to be awarded two federal grants resulting from President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative to develop next generation neuroimaging technology.

The first award is for the development of a small, portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device will allow the expansion of research on human behavior and treatment for brain disorders around the world. In addition, the compactness and efficiency of the MRI imaging system will make the study of human brain possible outside the unnatural laboratory environment and in people who are currently excluded from getting an MRI scan because they have metallic object in their body.

The second award would provide an efficient, cost-effective engineering solution and lead to next generation of MRI technology and instrument. This advancement will accelerate human brain imaging and neuroscience research beyond what can be achieved through existing technology, transform understanding of human brain function and dysfunction at the elementary computational units and enable noninvasive and reliable assessment of cerebral metabolism and neuroenergetics at the cellular level.

Current MRIs are only available to an estimated five percent of the world’s population, primarily in large developed cities and countries. In contrast to laboratory-bound MRIs that weigh several tons and occupy large areas of hospital space, the new head-only magnet will allow for imaging of patients with biomedical implants or other metal objects embedded in or attached to the body and will weigh roughly 1,000 pounds and requires no liquid helium. Liquid helium is difficult to obtain, especially in smaller, rural or undeveloped cities and countries. 

The proposed magnet will also allow for free motion and natural positioning of the body and limbs for the study of neuromotor functions not easily accommodated by conventional magnets. 

“We’re very excited and optimistic about the BRAIN Initiative grant. It is our intention to develop this reliable, affordable, and portable MRI platform to help more people around the world,” said Michael Garwood, Ph.D., professor of radiology at CMRR and co-principal investigator of the project. “This project will push the boundaries of what has been done in the past and allow us to study populations we simply could not study before.”

The three year grant is the first step in a broader neuroscience project. The project will:

  • Demonstrate human brain imaging with a magnet slightly larger than a human head, using a novel imaging method recently invented at the University.
  • Demonstrate the feasibility of a small, portable magnet constructed with high temperature superconductor wire.  
  • Demonstrate feasibility of a compact, high efficiency MRI scanner that has the capability to perform simultaneous radiofrequency transmission and signal reception.

“By combining our fundamentally new magnet and scanner technologies with new imaging physics, we will build an MRI machine accessible to the remaining 95% of the world’s population not served by current MRI limitations,” said Thomas Vaughan, Ph.D., professor of radiology at CMRR and co-principal investigator of the smaller MRI project. 

The second project led by Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, said the technology could also significantly benefit clinical MRI at lower field (1.5 Tesla and 3 Tesla) with superior imaging quality and reliability that are essential for improving individualized medicine in disease diagnosis and monitoring treatment efficacy.

Chen’s project aims to develop an innovative engineering solution based on a novel ultrahigh dielectric constant (uHDC) material incorporated with radio frequency coil techniques and existing ultrahigh-field MRI scanner to synergistically increase imaging sensitivity and reduce radio frequency power deposition, a major safety concern at high field, to achieve unprecedented improvements in spatial/temporal resolution over the current state-of-the-art magnetic resonance technologies.