San Antonio (June 27, 2007) – Just as a microscope can reveal the hidden cellular activity in a single drop of water, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will soon be able to see much more clearly the anatomy and functions of small animals in order to bring lifesaving scientific discoveries more quickly to humans.
The Health Science Center recently received $1.95 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a small-bore 9.4 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, one of only a handful in the United States. The powerful MRI is drawing interest from scientists from throughout the region, the United States and the world who would like to use it for their research studies, said Michael Duff Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of research and chief of the Translational Imaging Division at the Health Science Center.
With the addition of this instrument, the Health Science Center’s Comprehensive Facility for Animal Imaging Research (CFAIR) will become one of only a few in the world to have so wide an array of research imaging equipment all in one place.
In scientific studies, concepts usually are first tested in the laboratory, then in animals and finally in humans. “The research process can take many years and is very costly,” said world-renowned neurologist and imaging researcher Peter T. Fox, M.D., director of the Health Science Center’s Research Imaging Center. “Small-animal imaging makes it possible to more quickly and cost-effectively study diseases throughout the life span, because most animals do not live as long in humans. So, what might take 50 to 75 years to study in
humans can be achieved in a just few years by studying small animals. This will lead to more effective interventions in human care,” he explained.
The strength of each MRI magnet is indicated in units of Tesla (1 Tesla = 10,000 gauss), thus the new 9.4 Tesla MRI will have 188,000 times the magnetic force of earth yielding a six-fold improvement in magnification over the typical hospital scanner.
“The power of the 9.4 Tesla MRI lies not only in an ability to provide significantly improved anatomical resolution, but more importantly, it will dramatically improve the detection of small biochemical and physiological changes, such as revealing subtle drug effects on brain activity,” Davis explained. “These minute signals are appreciably blurred by noise when using less-powerful magnets.”
The scanner will be useful to scientists in many different disciplines and could result in novel findings and new treatments in cancer, wound healing, adult stem cell therapies, artificial blood substitutes, orthopedics, cardiology, organ transplantation, brain development and aging. “The scanner is sensitive enough to pick up the beginning growth of a new tumor before other instruments can, thereby avoiding the need for surgical biopsies,” Davis said. “This will help us evaluate, for example, which treatments are more effective against cancer earlier in the process so that we can focus on the more effective treatments and move them on to human studies. This will result in new treatments being available more quickly to people while saving time and research dollars.”
A variety of animals, from mice to non-human primates, can be imaged using the new MRI. And because the scanner can acquire its images and spectroscopy data non-destructively over many weeks, months or even years, fewer animals will need to be sacrificed for observation, Davis added.
In addition to Health Science Center researchers, the MRI will be available locally to researchers from The University of Texas at San Antonio, the San Antonio Foundation for Biomedical Research, Brooke Army Medical Center, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Audie L. Murphy Division, among others. Davis already has received three dozen proposals from other researchers in the state about using the new MRI. “We also have ongoing or proposed studies from several prominent national and international scientists,” he said. “I think the 9.4 Tesla MRI will literally be a ‘magnet’ to attract the best research ideas and scientists to the Health Science Center,” Davis said. “It should draw many more research dollars here than in the past.”
The Health Science Center’s Comprehensive Facility for Animal Imaging Research was established in October with $4.1 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and $4.1 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The funding is part of a $16.8 million infusion of capital from federal and state sources and private philanthropy that is expected to triple the Health Science Center’s research imaging enterprise from $25 million to $75 million annually. In addition to the 9.4 Tesla MRI, expected to be delivered by the end of the year, and the new 3 Tesla and 7 Tesla MRIs, the CFAIR also has a microPET scanner whose work will be greatly facilitated by the addition of a second cyclotron to be installed in the fall, thanks to a generous gift from Ruth McLean Bowers.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $536 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $14.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, click on www.uthscsa.edu.