The translational goals are both immediate and long-term, said magnetic resonance physicist and CTI Co-Director Susumu Mori. Immediately, the idea is to make accessible very 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 centre's ultimate purpose - and basis for Brain Science Institute support - upholds the traditional meaning of translational. Ideally, improved imaging in Hopkins' brain-oriented projects will hasten therapies for brain diseases.
The timing is right. "It's no coincidence that we're starting our centre now", Susumu Mori stated. "There's currently a bottleneck in the imaging field that interferes with the progress of biomedical research." But the problem, he said, isn't in the ability to acquire good data from imaging.
"That was the bottleneck 15 years ago", stated Susumu Mori. "Now, however, high-quality MRI and PET scanners are available. Their new technology lets users access state-of-the-art capabilities just by pushing buttons. Yet we're victims of our own success; quality images are so easily generated that the volume overwhelms researchers and clinicians." The new bottleneck, Mori said, lies in not being able to quantify information from a glut of images or interpret it rapidly enough. It's the access to good image analysis that must increase.
The CTI aims to improve things, University-wide, with several approaches. First, they'll set up a "protocol core" staffed by expert advisors who'll review proposed studies and offer guidance in collecting images. They'll also refer researchers to an appropriate Hopkins imaging data acquisition site. Sites include the F.M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the Molecular Imaging Center in the Broadway Research Building, the Department of Radiology's PET Center, Radiology's MRI Service Center and its Animal NMR Service Center.
Once high-quality images are generated, the core serves as a bridge to analysis in several ways. For one, it offers training - both individual and group - in the most widely used image analysis techniques. This educational arm of CTI will make computers and training available on a daily basis. "We anticipate high demand for this service", stated Marilyn Albert, another of CTI's co-directors. "The interest is already there."
In addition, 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 Susumu 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 comprehensive 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 centre to create even more advanced image analysis and share it", Susumu Mori added.
Especially helpful, the planners said, is CTI's "grant support core" opening this year. 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. These improvements 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 high-quality imaging.
The interests of the CTI's three architects bring considerable breadth to the new centre. Susumu Mori, with the School of Medicine's Department of Radiology, was key in developing the MRI capability to study brain anatomy.
Biomedical Engineering's Michael Miller, who directs the Center for Imaging Science in the Whiting School of Engineering, pioneered the field of computational anatomy. Getting computers to generate anatomically correct brain regions, he said, should enable scientists to relate changes in brain structure to patient symptoms in schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer's disease and others.
Neurology's Marilyn Albert, who directs that department's Division of Cognitive Neuroscience, is well known for work to understand the clinical biomarkers - including those derived from brain imaging - associated with aging and Alzheimer's disease.