November 20, 2015

Our Magnificent Magnet

Campus gets powerful magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy unit

Rebecca Spencer, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, lifted the gray plastic tarp on the back of a heavy-duty flatbed truck parked behind the Life Science Laboratories Building and smiled broadly at what she saw there. A new, Siemens 3-Tesla functional magnetic resonance system with multi-nuclear spectroscopy had just arrived at UMass.

This state-of-the-art machine and related equipment will transform Spencer’s sleep studies and the research of many other University of Massachusetts scientists. “It’s so exciting to have the scanner,” said Spencer. “I just want to stand here and admire it, but now it’s time to get to work.”

Faculty in many fields will use the unit for a wide range of research on such topics as neurogenerative diseases and the development of personalized health devices. It will allow them to observe the body with unprecedented clarity, points out Peter Rheinhart, director of UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). IALS has established a Human Magnetic Resonance Center that will position UMass Amherst and IALS to compete for new research opportunities in new technologies and methodologies and increase the campus’s competitiveness for grants and integrative funding opportunities from federal and private agencies.

Campus gets powerful magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy unit

The magnetic resonance unit is being prepared to move into its new home.

The $3.2 million unit was purchased with funds from the $95 million Massachusetts Life Sciences Institute grant made to the campus in June 2013.

Rosie Cowell, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, says the magnetic resonance unit will make a huge difference in her research examining memory and visual perception. She is looking at intriguing questions like, “How is it that we’re able to say that we’ve seen a face before?” The machine will help her determine the neural underpinnings of cognitive functions in the ventral visual stream and medial temporal lobe of the brain.

Jacquie Kurland, a faculty member in communication disorders and neuroscience and behavior programs, investigates the neurobiology of language. She studies aphasia, a speech-language disorder that frequently occurs after a stroke. With the new unit, she can look at the brains of stroke patients before and after treatment to study the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to change. “This machine is smarter than any we’ve used before,” she explains. “It is more powerful and faster and provides us with more information in less time.”

Spencer, Cowell, and Kurland were among the researchers celebrating as a crane lifted the 7.3 ton machine into its new home in the Life Science Laboratories on November 17. The Human Magnetic Resonance Center will be up and running and ready for research in early 2016.

A 7-ton magnetic resonance imaging machine has been delivered to the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, dramatically increasing research opportunities on campus and with hospitals and industries in the area.