Saturday, February 24, 2018

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SDSU's new MRI machine will allow scientists and students to conduct a wide range of brain imaging research on campus.
 


An MRI Machine of Our Own

SDSU’s new EIS Complex houses the university’s first MRI brain imaging machine.
By Story by Michael Price, video by Scott Hargrove
 

It was a momentous day for San Diego State University when a 13.5-ton package rolled into the northeast corner of campus on a flatbed truck last September. Once workers had unpackaged it and lifted it into the basement of the new Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences (EIS) Complex via crane and forklift, SDSU was the proud owner of the university’s first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

MRI machines are among the most critical tools for scientists who analyze brain images to understand basic human cognition as well as disease and disorders like fetal alcohol syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injury. While SDSU researchers have made great strides in studying these topics over the years, they’ve had to rely upon partnerships with other universities and institutions to gain access to their machines.

Now, SDSU students and faculty will be able to do groundbreaking research with brain imaging right here on the Mesa. The MRI machine sits in the imaging center of the EIS Complex, slated to officially open Jan. 16.

“There’s a lot of advancement in the technology, and this [machine] is the top-of-the-line one,” said psychology professor Martin Sereno, director of the SDSU brain imaging center. “It puts us a little ahead of a lot of other places.”

An MRI machine uses a combination of radio waves and powerful electromagnets to excite and then detect signals from resonating hydrogen atoms like those in water. The machine then converts these signals into an image. Since the human body is mostly water, MRI machines can return images of soft tissue within the body, such as the brain.

By comparing and contrasting brain images of people with various disorders and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, scientists can learn a great deal about how the structure of the brain gives rise to those traits. At SDSU, researchers like Ralph-Axel Müller, Inna Fishman and Ruth Carper study the brains of children and adults with autism, and Jennifer Thomas, Sarah Mattson and Ed Riley look at the neural underpinnings of fetal alcohol syndrome.

One advantage of having an MRI machine on campus is that SDSU researchers will be more competitive in winning grants to study these and other areas in the future. And it will encourage novel experimentation to tackle the big, bold problems in neuroscience, Sereno said. When you have to go through the trouble of using someone else’s machine, your work tends to be more conservative, tried-and-true. Having a machine of one’s own means SDSU scientists can afford to take greater risks for greater rewards.

“This [machine] will allow us to do all different kinds of studies of the human brain,” Sereno said. “We can study the visual system, the auditory system, how people respond to emotional stimuli, pain, touch— there are many different parts of the brain and we’re going to study them all.”