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Symposium Highlights Importance of Biomedical Imaging for Understanding Neurological Disease

January 29, 2023
by Isabella Backman

On January 18, Yale’s Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging's Division of Bioimaging Sciences and the Yale Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC) hosted a Neuroimaging in Neurological Disorders and Diseases Symposium in the Anlyan Center Auditorium. The symposium highlighted how imaging technology can enhance basic neuroscience research to help scientists better understand neurological diseases.

For decades, Yale has been at the forefront of neuroimaging research. In the early 1970s, Yale New Haven Hospital acquired Connecticut’s first computed tomography (CT) scanner. During a time when the only other methods for neurological diagnoses were invasive and time-consuming, this was revolutionary technology. From there, neuroimaging advances[gained momentum. In 1986, Yale scientists founded the MRRC, which now has seven magnets for imaging. In 2004, Yale broke ground for its new Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Research Center. And to this day, Yale continues to conduct groundbreaking research using cutting-edge imaging technologies.

There’s a pathway from these real-world data streams to clinically actionable information. This is a huge area of research.

Todd Constable, PhD

“Through this symposium, I hope we will be able to demonstrate more collaborations taking place, particularly between radiology and neurology,” said Rob Goodman, MBBCh, MBA, BMSc, chair and professor of radiology & biomedical imaging, “I also hope that this will raise awareness in the community as to how many resources we have available for neuroimaging, and how they can play a part in that.”

“This symposium is to give the community a flavor of some of the work going on the bioimaging sciences at Yale,” said Todd Constable, PhD, professor of radiology & biomedical imaging and of neurosurgery. “This series of applications talks highlights the translational nature of this work. We can look at Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other disorders.”

Yale Researchers Conduct Advanced Bioimaging Research

Constable’s work uses neuroimaging to understand normal patterns of brain activity and how those patterns can change in disease. Tools he employs also include technologies we use in our daily lives that monitor our everyday activities, including cell phones, web browsers, smart watches, video games, and voice assistants like Alexa or Siri.

“People are starting to mine this data and learn about the brain through this,” said Constable. “There’s a pathway from these real-world data streams to clinically actionable information. This is a huge area of research that asks, ‘how can we gather all this naturalistic activity and say something about the individual?’” Through combining these data sets with neuroimaging data, Constable hopes to establish links among them to learn more about the biological connections between neurological symptoms and disorders.

Richard Carson, PhD, professor of radiology & biomedical imaging, spoke about novel developments in PET imaging. “In principle, with the right tracer, the right pharmaceutical, the right imaging technology, and the right human paradigm, we can measure anything in the physiology of human health,” said Carson. Through collaboration with a chemistry team led by Yiyun Huang, PhD, professor of radiology & biomedical imaging, the group is developing high resolution PET scanning tools and radioactive tracers for studying disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more.

Carson’s team is also in the process of developing the next-generation PET scanner, the NeuroeXplorer (NX), in collaboration with the University of California, Davis, and United Imaging, with funding through the National Institutes of Health. “It has exquisite sensitivity,” says Carson. “It will open up new imaging paradigms, allow us to reduce radiation dose, and lead to methodological improvements.”

Sule Tinaz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, conducts interventional studies in Parkinson’s disease. “Disease-modifying treatments are a hot topic,” she said. Her lab uses a non-pharmacological approach, and ongoing research uses multimodal neuroimaging to study the brain effects of therapeutics such as high intensity exercise and mental imagery training on the disorder.

Adam Mecca, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, uses imaging technologies to study synaptic loss—which is associated with cognitive decline—in Alzheimer’s disease. “The ability to quantify synapses in vivo can be of great importance for understanding the neurobiology of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “With this in mind, you can imagine why the recent development of PET methods for in vivo human synaptic imaging is important.”

Other speakers included Sophie Holmes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology, on the association between synaptic density and depression severity; David Matuskey, MD, associate professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, on varieties of the synaptic experience; and Carolyn Fredericks, MD, assistant professor of neurology, on imaging neurodegeneration.

Looking Ahead to More Bioimaging Advances

This symposium focused on neurological applications, but bioimaging sciences can enhance a wide range of specialties. Constable hopes this symposium will be the first of many focusing on artificial intelligence, cancer imaging, cardiac imaging, developmental studies and other applications.

Submitted by Robert Forman on January 30, 2023