Boosting Resolution and Efficiency at the MR Research Center

Todd ConstableAlong with Douglas Rothman, Ph.D., Todd Constable, Ph.D., co-directs the Yale Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC) and oversees MRI research.
Along with Douglas Rothman, Ph.D., Todd Constable, Ph.D., co-directs the Yale Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC) and oversees MRI research.

Yale’s Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC) houses cutting-edge MR equipment, infrastructure and expertise to support the more than 60 investigators who utilize its services.

Among its five human magnets is a 7T human head system—one of a limited number throughout the world—that provides excellent resolution in terms of MR spectroscopy for looking at specific metabolites. “It potentially has the ability to do very-high-resolution functional and structural imaging of the brain,” said Todd Constable, Ph.D., co-director of MRI research and professor of diagnostic radiology, of biomedical engineering, and of neurosurgery. He expects to see a dramatic increase in use of the system over the next couple of years as investigators become aware of its capabilities.

With the addition of a second 3T magnet and the upgrade of its existing 3T magnet, the MRRC now has two state-of-the-art 3T systems that are primarily dedicated to functional imaging but also support cardiac and vascular research as well as drug testing and other patient studies. The School of Medicine has recruited several imaging faculty, particularly in neurology and psychiatry with others on the way, who are expected to make use of this resource.

Their work will likely get a boost in the next few years from two patents filed by Constable and his team aimed at reducing the time needed to perform mr studies. For the last 40 years, mri has utilized technology using linear magnetic field gradients to perform spatial encoding. Constable’s group has introduced combinations of receiver coils and non-linear magnetic field gradients for encoding that allow more efficient data collection, potentially reducing the time required for MRI by a factor of 2 or more. “Even a factor of 2 would have a huge impact on the cost of MRI, access to MRI and patient comfort,” said Constable. “Typically a clinical study is on the order of an hour; this could reduce that to half an hour or even less.” The technique could be applied to almost any MRI imaging pulse sequence. Siemens Medical has licensed the patents and has provided almost $1 million worth of hardware to support efforts to bring this new approach to clinical settings.

Under the leadership of John Krystal, M.D., the department of psychiatry has made ample use of the MRRC in its translational research efforts to unravel the mechanisms underlying conditions such as schizophrenia. Alan Anticevic, Ph.D., associate research scientist in psychiatry, is part of a group of researchers who use pharmacological neuroimaging and computational modeling to examine large-scale brain functioning. Their approach, reported online ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that disruption of a molecular signaling mechanism within larger neural systems may contribute to the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Anticevic recently received a prestigious $1.8 million NIH Director’s Early Independence Award to continue this line of inquiry in a project that combines three complementary approaches—clinical neuroimaging of patients; pharmacological neuroimaging; and a mathematical model developed on the level of single neurons—to understand the mechanism underlying the cognitive disturbances in schizophrenia. “Cognitive disturbances are poorly treated, not well understood, and a source of functional impairment; and yet we don’t really know what causes them,” he said. “If we can understand the mechanisms behind this problem, then we can begin to understand how to develop better treatments in a truly mechanistically derived fashion,” he said.

The MRRC will be a key site for Anticevic’s research, a prospect that he looks forward to. “The entire center continues to be a fantastic resource, all the way from the MR technicians to the leadership,” he noted. “The scanners are cutting-edge, which really allows investigators to push the envelope, and I can readily interface with the technology and receive technical support when I need it.”

The center offers regular seminars in bioimaging, fMRI and neuromolecular imaging for those who would like to learn more about imaging applications for research. The schedule can be found online at http://mrrc.yale.edu/home/seminars/index.aspx. Information about getting started with research ideas or protocols can be found at http://mrrc.yale.edu/users/index.aspx.