University of Rochester

$2.7 Million to Create High-Tech Brain Imaging Center

August 13, 2003

Watching the human brain in action is the goal for scientists at the new Rochester Center for Brain Imaging. The center has been founded with two grants totaling $2.7 million, which will be used to renovate space and purchase a state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system that provides detailed images of the brain. These brain scans not only reveal minute anatomical structures, but also which portions of the brain are active as participants perform a variety of tasks.

"This center is a wonderful addition to the research tools for a widespread and important group of scholars at the University," says Charles Phelps, provost of the University of Rochester. "It significantly augments our research ability in both the College and the Medical Center."

The new MRI system will have a resolution far better than MRIs normally used in standard clinical situations. The quality of an MRI image is closely related to the magnetic field strength, and the new machine will use a 3.0 Tesla magnet; twice the strength of those in standard machines. Only about 30 such MRIs exist in the nation.

The facility can also be used for imaging any part of the body to investigate questions in cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, and many other fields. It will also serve an important training function for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows as they learn how to use MRI as a research tool.

Projects already slated for the new center include one led by Daphne Bavelier, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences, which investigates how the brain is reorganized when an entire sense--such as hearing in the case of deaf individuals--is absent. For example, does the auditory part of the brain in deaf individuals respond to visual information? Another project by William Merigan, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, will look at how the brain recovers from or reorganizes itself after a stroke. Richard Aslin and Elissa Newport , professors of brain and cognitive sciences, will search for areas of the brain that are activated as adults and children rapidly learn new skills, including novel miniature languages. A team led by Bavelier, Newport, and Professor Ted Supalla investigates how language is represented in the brain by studying individuals who use sign language rather than spoken language. For example, does the usual bias for the left side of the brain to process spoken language also hold for native users of American Sign Language? Professor Jianhui Zhong, from the Departments of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and Kevin Parker, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will develop new techniques for gathering images from the magnet and visualizing their three-dimensional properties.

The Rochester Center for Brain Imaging will be located between the River Campus and the Medical Center. Renovations are expected to begin by September and to be completed by February, 2004. The 3.0 Tesla Siemens magnet housed in the RCBI will be available for basic and clinical research by any member of the University faculty, as well as by partner researchers from Cornell University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Geneseo.

Seven researchers, led by principal investigator Richard Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, were awarded the grants from the National Science Foundation and from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to form the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging (RCBI).