Advanced brain imaging center opens at San Francisco VA Medical Center on May 12-13

By Steve Tokar

The San Francisco VA Medical center will celebrate the grand opening of its new state-of-the-art Center for the Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases with a ribbon-cutting on Friday, May 12. 

Special guests will include officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the California Congressional delegation, among others.

The ceremony will take place from 11-11:30 a.m. in front of Building 13 on the SFVAMC campus, 4150 Clement Street in San Francisco.

The celebration continues on Saturday, May 13 with an inaugural conference of international medical imaging experts.

The mission of CIND is the early detection and subsequent monitoring of chronic and neurodegenerative brain diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, posttraumatic stress disorder, Gulf War illness, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and HIV dementia.

Brain images are obtained with magnetic resonance imaging, a non-invasive, non-radioactive technology. At the heart of CIND’s equipment array is a state-of-the-art Bruker MedSpec MRI instrument, which at 4.0 Tesla—a measure of magnetic field strength—is several times more powerful than conventional MRI devices.  CIND director Michael Weiner, MD, calls the instrument “one of the most advanced MRI devices in the world.” Its high magnetic field strength allows researchers to obtain extremely detailed images of complex brain structures and processes. It is the only one of its kind in the VA system.
The Center features a 1.5 Tesla Siemens VISION MRI instrument as well.

“We conduct essential research,” says Weiner, who is also a professor of radiology, medicine, psychiatry, and neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Looking at Alzheimer’s alone, about five million Americans have it, and that number is only expected to grow. As new drugs are developed, it’s vital that we find ways to identify degenerative brain disease in its early stages, so we know whom to treat, and when.”

Weiner also notes a pressing need to treat the estimated 35 percent of veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking mental health services, including treatment for symptoms of PTSD and Gulf War illness. “CIND’s imaging capabilities will have a direct, positive impact on research that promises to help our veterans,” he says.

CIND has a staff of more than 60 physicians, physicists, computer scientists, radiologists, technicians, and support personnel. It is located in Building 13 on the SFVAMC campus, a newly renovated 10,000 square foot building dedicated entirely to imaging research. Architect Michael Kastrop designed the façade in an art deco style to harmonize with older buildings on campus. The interior, particularly the lobby and reception areas, continues the art deco theme.

In 1982, in the same building, Weiner established the first VA laboratory dedicated to nuclear magnetic resonance, the physical basis of MRI.

“Since then, of course, MRI has developed as a huge field,” he notes. “I had the extreme good fortune to become involved in it at its very beginning - and the SFVAMC administration has supported our work from the start.”

The CIND Inaugural Conference gets under way at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, in Building 7 on the SFVAMC campus. The conference celebrates both the opening of CIND and Weiner’s achievements as a leader in magnetic resonance research. Featured presenters will include many of Weiner’s friends and colleagues from around the world.

The conference is sponsored by Bruker Biospin, Merck & Co., the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, SFVAMC, Siemens Medical Systems, Synarc, and the UCSF Department of Radiology.

SFVAMC has the largest medical research program in the national VA system, with over 200 research scientists. All SFVAMC principal investigators have dual appointments as faculty members of UCSF.

NCIRE is the largest research institute associated with a VA medical center, and ranks 16th among independent research institutes in support received from the National Institutes of Health. The mission of NCIRE is to improve the health and well-being of veterans and the general public by supporting a world-class biomedical research program conducted by the UCSF faculty at SFVAMC.

UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care.