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N.C. Biotechnology Center Awards $249,500 for Powerful MRI Machine

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – An enormously powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine for research on small animals has been installed at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has awarded $249,500 from its Science and Technology Development Program to help pay for the research facility.

"This technology will enable researchers at the medical school, and from the Piedmont Triad research community, to carry out non-invasive investigations into animal models of human diseases," said Jian-Ming Zhu, Ph.D., the facility's director and principal investigator on the grant.

The research facility, called the micro-MRI, consists of the magnet and its imaging devices, located in a heavily shielded room in the basement of the Center for Research on Human Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention. Zhu, assistant professor of radiation oncology and biomedical engineering, said the funding will be used "to develop novel imaging techniques for early detection and diagnosis of diseases using animal models."

The micro-MRI is up and running, according to Michael E.C. Robbins, Ph.D., co-principal investigator on the grant and chairman of the Small Animal Imaging Committee of the Center for Biomolecular Imaging. The multidisciplinary center was created in 2003 to provide basic science and clinical researchers with the imaging facilities they need.

"Imaging of molecular events is what we are looking for," said Robbins. Until now, the only way to perform molecular imaging in such early events as tumor growth or gene alternation was by invasive surgical approaches.

"We have generated some exciting images," said Robbins, professor of radiation oncology and of neurosurgery. "The micro-MRI scanner allows researchers to obtain high resolution images of live animals, which would not be possible using conventional clinical MR systems."

Robbins' committee has already received proposals to study radiation-induced changes in normal brain function, the effect of combined cancer therapies, and imaging of lung tumors and prostate cancer in mice models.

The machine, intended for use on rats and mice, produces a magnetic force that is 140,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field. With it, detailed snapshots can be made of metabolic pathways in living animals.

"The higher magnetic field strength, more sensitive imaging probes, and more sophisticated imaging sequences are what enable microscopic resolution of MRI," said Zhu.


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