3-tesla MRI to improve research on campus
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 22:09
Beginning in the fall semester of 2015, students and faculty at the university will have a new scientific tool to improve research on campus. The university has approved the construction of an MRI scanning facility, which will likely be housed in the new Health Sciences Complex on STAR Campus.
“The MRI scanner is a valuable research tool which cuts virtually across all the colleges on our campus and it is a facility that all major universities have access to,” said head of project and psychology professor Robert Simons.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a technique used in radiology to visualize the structures of the body. Unlike with a traditional X-ray, an MRI gives a clear image of soft tissues, making imaging of muscles or organs—such as the brain—possible.
The scanner will serve as a hub for scholars, Simons said, allowing for scientific research as well as education. He said the idea for an on-campus scanner cannot be attributed to one person.
“It’s just so big in the field that any scientist would know that an MRI facility is important to have on campus,” Simons said.
Professor Simons stressed the cross-curricular uses for the scanner, and said projects involving the scanner can be part of several of the biological departments on campus, including psychology, health sciences and physical therapy. One benefit of having the MRI machine is it can look at the brain in real time, Simons said.
Not only will the MRI machine serve to benefit departments, but it could potentially benefit students, Simons said.
“The scanner allows us to bring undergraduates into the laboratory and position them to where they can go out and apply to graduate schools where this technology is commonplace,” Simons said.
According to Riordan, the MRI scanner project began approximately two years ago when a group of faculty felt an MRI facility was important for research and education. The group then took their idea to Tom Apple, who was the Provost at the time. After a year of working, the task force presented their ideas to then-Interim Provost Nancy Brickhouse.
After making what Vice Provost of Research Charles Riordan said was a “compelling” argument, the task force received the approval to continue the development of the facility. Riordan said the MRI scanner would not always be used in the conventional clinical sense but rather as a research instrument.
“In research, some faculty will push the frontiers of what the technology can do and in terms of what an experiment says,” Riordan said.
He said the effects of this research will be felt both inside and outside the classroom. Riordan said the facility will offer new research opportunities for undergraduates all year. With the facility, students will be able to utilize the instrument for research and observe experimental design.
The department of biomedical engineering will utilize the new MRI scanner facility to move basic research to clinical practice, engineering professor Dawn Elliott said.
Elliot said she is currently conducting MRI research, examining the effects of everyday loads on spinal disks. She said according to the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineering, one of the grand challenges of the next twenty years is to improve early diagnosis and treatment of disease through improved methods for noninvasive medical imaging.
“In order for UD to participate in this challenge, we need to have MRI facilities on campus,” Elliot said.
Riordan said the MRI is set to complete in the fall of 2015, and will most likely be housed in a new building near the Life Science Research Facility on the main campus. A special building is required to house and meet the technical demands of the three-tesla magnet due to its power, as most conventional MRI scanners contain 0.5 tesla magnets.
University officials met with architects and engineering firms this week to listen to various proposals for the new facility and will sign a contract with a firm in the next several weeks. Construction of the building will begin in the summer of 2014, Simons said.
Charles Riordan said the assembly of the magnet will begin at around the same time. However, he said the road to this point has not been easy and securing funding for the project has been a challenge. Riordan said some of this is due to the spending cuts in Washington, D.C., frequently referred to as the “sequester.”
However, looking toward the future, he said the scanner will not just benefit the university, but also other partners in the region.
“The scanner will benefit in a number of ways, including the research capabilities for faculty, staff and students, to address the challenging problems facing our world,” Riordan said.