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Kamil Ugurbil, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research

A new $7.9 million grant to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, directed by Kamil Ugurbil, will expand access to brain imaging technology for University neuroscience researchers.

New grant opens imaging opportunities

The National Institutes of Health grant will expand neuroscience imaging research at the University

By Deane Morrison

Oct. 20, 2006

When Socrates advised "know thyself," he couldn't have realized what a complicated feat that would be for modern students of the brain. For today's neuroscientists, a deep knowledge of how the human brain works is essential to preventing and treating disorders that have wreaked havoc with individuals, families and even nations. At the University, the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) is among the premier centers for probing brain structure, chemistry and function. Recently, it became one of four institutions in the country to receive a five-year, $7.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. CMRR will use the money to open its powerful imaging technology to more University neuroscience researchers. The result will be more work on more aspects of the nervous system, which will translate into better prospects for preventing, postponing and treating nervous system disorders. The need is pressing; it has been estimated that as many as one in three Americans will be affected by such a disorder during his or her lifetime. Also, a large study by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and Harvard University indicated that in the developed world, brain-related maladies were six of the top 10 reasons why people between 15 and 44 years old lost years of healthy life. Of the 40 institutions that applied for the NIH Blueprint Grant for Neuroscience Research, CMRR received the highest score on its application. "This grant is a result of all of our work on brain sciences at the CMRR," said Kamil Ugurbil, director of CMRR and professor of radiology, neuroscience and medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, in a news release. "Now we will be able to expand it by creating an environment that allows our technology to be used by the larger neuroscience community."

The development of techniques to produce images of working brains and of Alzheimer's plaques are examples of first-time accomplishments credited to the unique high magnetic field magnetic resonance research carried out in CMRR.

CMRR is an interdisciplinary research laboratory that houses state-of-the-art magnetic resonance facilities. In magnetic resonance studies, powerful magnets are used to produce a strong magnetic field. The person being studied is placed in the field and pulses of radio waves are applied. The combination of magnetism and radio waves causes the nuclei of atoms to emit characteristic signals that reveal, for example, the distribution of chemicals or blood flow in the brain or that can be used to produce images of the brain. MR techniques are noninvasive and often supply information that cannot be obtained by other techniques such as X-rays, ultrasound or CT scans. The development of techniques to produce images of working brains and of Alzheimer's plaques are examples of first-time accomplishments credited to the unique high magnetic field MR research carried out in CMRR. CMRR's magnets are six times as strong as most MRI machines found in a typical clinical setting. Magnetic resonance is considered safe for children, which means it has potential in the study of normal development as well as childhood disorders. The literature of neuroscience contains numerous reports of MR's usefulness, such as its ability to detect abnormalities associated with schizophrenia. From tracing the workings of the human visual system to tracking the areas of the brain involved in performing different tasks, MR can and is contributing substantially to the growing body of knowledge about that most enigmatic of organs. The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research grants were developed as a partnership between 15 NIH institutes and centers to accelerate neuroscience research by encouraging the creation of centralized infrastructures. Other recipients of Blueprint grants were the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, La Jolla, Calif.; University of Alabama, Birmingham; and Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Read about the Presidential Initiative on Brain Function Across the Lifespan.

The University recently hosted a conference on how the brain adapts.