Johns Hopkins to provide neuro-imaging hub

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Johns Hopkins' Brain Science Institute in Baltimore is underwriting the Center for Translational Imaging (CTI), which aims to channel experience from Hopkins' imaging-dedicated centers into a university-wide understanding and use of imaging techniques for neuroscience research.

The translational goals are both immediate and long-term, said MR physicist and CTI Co-Director Susumu Mori. Immediately, the idea is to make accessible high-quality anatomical MRI, MR spectroscopy, functional MRI, PET and newer offshoots, such as diffusion tensor imaging. The prime targets of such "upgrades" are researchers with basic and clinical neuroscience studies in fields such as neurology, psychiatry, developmental biology, psychology, genetics, pathology and biomedical engineering.

But the center's ultimate purpose is improved imaging in Hopkins' brain-oriented projects that will hasten therapies for brain diseases, according to the university.

"It's no coincidence that we're starting our center now," Mori said. "There's currently a bottleneck in the imaging field that interferes with the progress of biomedical research." But the problem, he said, is not in the capability to acquire good data from imaging.

"That was the bottleneck 15 years ago," Mori noted. "Now, however, high-quality MRI and PET scanners are available...Yet we're victims of our own success; quality images are so easily generated that the volume overwhelms researchers and clinicians."

First, the university plans to set up a "protocol core" staffed by expert advisers who'll review proposed studies and offer guidance in collecting images. They will also refer researchers to an appropriate Hopkins imaging data acquisition site.

Once images are generated, the core serves as a bridge to analysis in several ways. For one, it offers training--both individual and group--in widely used image analysis techniques. The educational arm of CTI will make computers and training available.

Also, the CTI aims to centralize services for image analysis, particularly for projects with high-quality anatomical images. Though still in the planning stages, two image analysis stations will open, one, under Mori, in the Traylor Building on the medical campus and another, headed by CTI Co-Director Michael Miller, at Homewood's Center for Imaging Science.

At first, CTI will charge for its analysis, but the ultimate hope is to automate the process so fully that investigators can perform it, gratis, in their own laboratories. "That ability is critical because it will free the center to create even more advanced image analysis and share it," Mori adds. The intent is to provide the pilot funding that lets studies incorporate useful, quality human or animal imaging, making investigators more likely to get outside grant awards.

The upgrades will come in phases. While imaging analysis occurs now at Hopkins, CTI's efforts will ultimately add workstations, improve the ease of analysis and foster wider use of imaging.