Biomedical Imaging at UVA
A Collaborative Translational Model
Because researchers investigating disease-based applications and foundational sciences work closely together, clinical and preclinical studies routinely make use of the latest advances in the foundational sciences, while the needs of the advanced applications often influence and set the direction for future foundational research. This multidisciplinary, collaborative, and translational model is cross-cutting. It applies to multiple diseases, modalities (MRI, PET, SPECT, ultrasound, photoacoustic tomography, tomosynthesis and CT), scales (microscopy, preclinical imaging in animal models, and clinical imaging), and areas of expertise (biomedical engineering, cancer, cardiovascular disease, electrical and computer engineering, neurosciences, physics, radiochemistry, radiology and more). This model of imaging research is also ideal for clinical, basic-science, and engineering trainees, who they gain both depth and breadth of expertise through immersion in UVA’s multidisciplinary imaging research ecosystem.
Major Focus Areas
Co-location in Medicine and Engineering
Over more than three decades, UVA investigators have made important contributions to foundational research in data acquisition methods, image reconstruction and analysis techniques, and molecularly targeted contrast agents. Clinician and basic scientists have leveraged these strong foundations to improve clinical diagnostic imaging, to create completely new areas of imaging, and to advance hypothesis-driven research. We have established internationally recognized research programs in cardiovascular and lung imaging, with emerging areas of excellence in cancer as well as in neurological imaging and focused ultrasound.
Imaging Across Scales
Our imaging programs span scales from microscopy (i.e., Song Hu’s research in photoacoustic microscopy) to preclinical imaging in mice and rats (i.e., Brent French’s, Fred Epstein’s, Kim Kelly’s, Bijoy Kundu’s and John Hossack’s research using MRI, ultrasound, PET, and FMT in mouse and rat models) to large animal and human imaging (i.e., the research of Meyer, Mugler, Salerno, etc). Preclinical imaging provides opportunities for imaging to collaborate with cell and tissue engineering colleagues and with computational modeling colleagues, and large-animal and human imaging research enables translation to clinical imaging and collaborative clinical research. There are presently NIH-funded projects in all these areas.
Global Center of Excellence in Image-Guided Focused Ultrasound
UVA was recognized as the first worldwide Center of Excellence by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in 2009. UVA is home to an Insightec MR Image-Guided Focused Ultrasound Brain System, which is being used in groundbreaking clinical trials for essential tremor, tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease, neuropathic pain, and epilepsy. In addition, our Theraclion Echopulse ultrasound image-guided clinical system is on the verge of being approved for first-of-their-kind clinical trials combining focused ultrasound with adjunct immunotherapeutic drug delivery for breast cancer and melanoma. We also boast several MRI (3T and 7T) and ultrasound image-guided focused ultrasound systems for small animal research. Over the past 5 years, UVa’s Biomedical Engineering Department has received >$7M in NIH funding for focused ultrasound research, primarily in the field of targeted drug and gene delivery, and is a hub for MRI technology developments that serve to improve the quality and precision of focused ultrasound therapies.
Longstanding MRI Research Relationship with Siemens
UVA has had a continuous research relationship with Siemens for more than 30 years, which has included funding for research projects, hardware (including MRI scanners and RF coils), access to the development environment, data acquisition and reconstruction source code, collaborations with Siemens’ scientists and engineers in the United States and Germany, joint intellectual property, and multiple BME contributions to Siemens products or works-in-progress (MPRAGE, SPACE, DENSE). This relationship has been beneficial to BME faculty members and to our graduate students. Our BME graduate students routinely perform internships with Siemens.
Vision for the Future
The future of biomedical imaging will involve ever higher spatial resolution and sensitivity, quantitative assessment of pathophysiology, increased guidance of procedures, the detection of key molecular and cellular signatures, and the integration of imaging data with “omics” and other data to inform precision medicine.
At UVA, quantitative cardiac imaging is improving outcomes by guiding patient-specific device implantations for individuals with heart failure and cardiac rhythm disorders; PET molecular imaging is helping guide patient-specific cancer therapies, MR-guided focused ultrasound is delivering drugs across the blood-brain barrier to treat brain cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and photoacoustic microscopy is helping to unravel the molecular biology of Alzheimer’s disease.
Future directions for imaging at UVA include continued and evolving emphases in our distinguishing areas: (a) physics and engineering of imaging systems, (b) cardiovascular imaging, and (c) lung imaging, as well as enhancing the growing areas of targeted molecular imaging, photoacoustic tomography, image-guided focused ultrasound therapies, cancer imaging, and neuroimaging.