UMass Gets an MRI

Picture of mri

The Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) took delivery of a $3.2 million, 7.3-ton, 3-Tesla magnet and related equipment on Nov. 17 for use in its Human Magnetic Resonance (MR) Center in the Life Science Laboratories Building. The research suite was purchased with funds from the $95 million, Massachusetts Life Sciences Institute grant to the campus in 2013.

A crew from German manufacturer Siemens began the approximately six-hour process at about 7:30 a.m. IALS director Peter Reinhart and Peter Grey-Mullen, design and construction management, were on hand to oversee the installation, along with several excited faculty members.

Jane Kent, professor of kinesiology and a coordinator of the effort to bring the new MR imaging and spectroscopy unit to campus, says, “This is the state-of-the-art for the western Massachusetts region,” she says. “Nobody else will have the capabilities to do the exercise studies that we will be doing with this new equipment.” She recalls that next month will be the 15th anniversary of when she first began lobbying to get such a research MR machine on campus.

Once fully operational in early 2016, the new MR system will be the only research-dedicated, 3-Tesla MR system with multi-nuclear spectroscopy in western Massachusetts. It will greatly expand the capabilities of campus research, notably in sleep studies, investigation of neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, and in development of personalized health devices, among others. Its state-of-the-art, 64-channel imaging capability will far exceed that of other facilities in the region, allowing higher quality functional imaging of small brain regions.

Kent says several other kinesiology researchers plan to use the new equipment in their investigations as soon as they can for such studies as musculo-skeletal imaging, exploring tissue properties at the interface with a prosthetic device, and muscle biochemistry.

Others in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences have plans for research in areas such as communication disorders, epidemiology and environmental health sciences in coming years, according to Jacquie Kurland, communication disorders. Overall, campus-wide, more than 40 faculty researchers in nursing, psychological and brain sciences, linguistics, anthropology, chemical engineering and mechanical and industrial engineering also have expressed interest in using the new IALS facility.

Kent and Rebecca Spencer, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, note that among the advantages of the new research tool is that it offers non-invasive and therefore repeatable measures of living tissues, high-resolution spatial mapping of brain function, time-series measures of metabolism during various experiments and quantification of any tissue or system in the body.

The array of new equipment being installed this month in the new Human MR Center includes a mock MRI in the room next door, which will serve as a practice space for children and others to use before they enter an actual imaging session.

Spencer plans to use the new equipment to study brain activity and sleep patterns in different age groups, with the aid of a metal-free electroencephalography cap that is safe to use inside the magnet, for example. Kent plans to study real-time, individual muscle force and motion in volunteers who will use specially designed plastic exercise equipment inside the magnet. Kent and Spencer are currently the co-directors of the new center.

Kent says that incorporating this resource into the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring at IALS will create a unique niche for partnering with industry and will significantly help to recruit top-tier faculty, post-docs and graduate students who do human subjects research. Further, access to this system will allow new types of industry partnerships related to efficacy, proof of concept, intervention and dose-response studies. Finally, the new equipment should 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. IALS plans to hire two physicists and a technician for the center sometime in 2016.

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