Published December 3, 2019
The importance of sophisticated imaging technology in medical research is difficult to dispute.
Advancements in technology like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans have led to significant changes in the way diseases are diagnosed and treated.
Until relatively recently, this technology has been available to University at Buffalo researchers on a very limited basis. But for the past several years, that reality has changed for investigators at UB and in the wider Buffalo community.
Imaging technology at UB features three 'State-of-the-Art' scanners
In 2013, UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences established the Center for Biomedical Imaging in the Clinical and Translational Research Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
In 2015, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) designated imaging as one of its cores, the Translational Imaging Core, supported by the National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) with the aim of expanding access to advanced imaging technology to clinical and translational researchers throughout the Buffalo-area research community.
“The purpose of the Center for Biomedical Imaging Center is to create the first facility in the Buffalo area to provide academic and non-academic researchers with access to imaging technology,” said Robert Zivadinov, MD, PhD, a professor of Neurology at the Jacobs School, who also serves as director of the Center for Biomedical Imaging at the Clinical and Translational Research Center and director of Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center, a Division of the Department of Neurology. “The key is to provide imaging services to people with an interest in several types of imaging, as well as to boost imaging at UB and in the larger Buffalo community.”
The Center for Biomedical Imaging currently maintains three state-of-the-art imaging scanners that can be used by Buffalo investigators, Zivadinov said. These include a 9.4 Tesla high-resolution MRI scanner for studying small animals like mice and rats. Zivadinov said this is a completely new initiative, as scanners of this type were not previously available locally.
The second scanner is a larger, 3 Tesla scanner, suitable for studying humans and larger animals. And third is the PET/CT scanner, which is also used for studying humans and large animals.
Imaging’s role in translational research
According to Zivadinov, the top research area for investigators using these machines is neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, systemic lupus erythematosus and stroke. The second area is the study of concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBI), an area in which UB investigators have made significant advancements. The third is heart disorders.
Imaging makes important contributions to translational research via testing of new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. For example, as part of a CTSI-funded pilot study, Ferdinand Schweser, PhD, and David Poulsen, PhD, have identified early changes by MRI following traumatic brain injury in a preclinical model of concussion. This observation holds promise for significant advancement in the diagnosis and management of traumatic brain injuries and post-concussion syndrome in patients.
In addition, researchers have accessed the scanners to study other disorders, such as kidney, liver and bone diseases, he said.
Further, Zivadinov pointed out that not every researcher making use of this technology is a strictly medical researcher. To date, investigators from 11 of UB’s schools – including the schools of Dental Medicine, Architecture and Planning, Nursing, and Public Health and Health Professions – have made use of the scanners. A total of 50 faculty members from 25 departments across UB have used the Center’s services since 2015, he said.
Accessing imaging services
To take advantage of the services offered, prospective researchers can visit the Center’s active website through the CTSI webpage, http://www.buffalo.edu/ctsi/cores/imaging.html.
Once researchers establish contact, they meet with experts in the Center to discuss the research project to determine if it is feasible and appropriate for the Center for Biomedical Imaging.
If the project meets criteria, investigators fill out required forms, specify where funding is coming from, meet regulatory criteria, and so forth. Assistance is provided on an ongoing basis, as needed, Zivadinov said. A major strength of the Center for Biomedical Imaging is the expertise and capacity to create and implement novel imaging technologies. Although use of services is not free, the state-approved fees have been structured to be affordable, he said.
Going forward, the Center’s goal is to create a national platform, or clearinghouse, for sharing protocols, and analyses across the CTSA Consortium (comprised of ~58 academic institutions with CTSA grants). The UB Center for Biomedical Imaging is the first entity to begin to develop a means for exchanging knowledge and avoiding duplication of effort on a national basis, Zivadinov said. This will save countless researchers time and money, he added.
At present, the creation of the national platform is a pilot program that brings in investigators from CTSA hubs at University of California San Francisco, University of Southern California, Harvard University and Washington University in St. Louis to work with the UB CTSI, with the goal of future expansion to include other institutions.