Federal grant brings greater resolution to imaging research at MRI center

Anne M. Sawyer-Glover

The 7-T magnet, weighing in at roughly 80,000 pounds, was lowered into its new home in the Lucas Center on Friday. The equipment will greatly refine magnetic resonance imaging methods to diagnose and treat disease, allowing the sensitivity to detect five times more detail than the current magnet in use.

Professor of radiology Gary Glover, PhD, has received $7 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue—and to expand—operation of the Center for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Technology at Stanford over the next five years.

The center, which was established a decade ago with NIH funding, has developed innovative biomedical imaging methods, and on Friday, a giant crane lowered an 80,000-pound magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, magnet into what will soon be additional space for the radiology department and Glover’s center. The grant money will help to pay for the cost of projects using the magnet.

This new machine, a 7-Tesla whole body magnet, will provide unprecedented opportunities to extend resolution and contrast in MRI, said Glover. Scientists will be able to view objects as small as 250-millionths of a meter and use it, for instance, to observe neurons firing in the visual processing center of the brain. The 7-Tesla is more than twice as powerful as the largest MRI instrument that’s now in Glover’s center. At this time, the technology is only for investigational, not clinical, use.

“With these new facilities and continued support from our grant renewal, we expect to enter exciting new regimes of bioimaging research,” Glover said.

MRI technology involves strong magnets, high frequency magnetic fields and computers to create images of human and animal anatomy, and it functions non-invasively. It also can make images of laboratory cell samples.

Using a smaller magnet that has been in the building for a number of years, the center is developing techniques for imaging brain function, new methods of visualizing kidney function, diagnosing breast and prostate cancer and new approaches for generating quantitative images of cardiovascular function.

Dozens of investigators are affiliated with the center, but as important as their numbers are, is the breadth of their disciplines. The technology will be used by clinical researchers such as radiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and vascular surgeons, as well as basic scientists from such departments as neurobiology, psychology, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Others come here from around the world, sometimes staying for months to conduct research.

The NIH’s latest grant to the center coincides with an expansion of the Lucas Center, which houses the Center for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Technology. About 20,000 square feet of new laboratory, office and instructional space is due to open in early 2005.