San Francisco VA brain imaging team receives $6 million NIH award

By Steve Tokar

Brain Imaging

A national research group headed by Michael Weiner, MD, director of the Center for the Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, has been granted a $6.04 million Biomedical Technology Research Centers (BTRC) Award from the National Institutes of Health.

The award will be used to support development of new strategies and technologies to improve the sensitivity and resolution of several magnetic resonance imaging techniques (MRI) in order to better diagnose and track neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The award will be administered by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.

“In the face of the coming Alzheimer’s epidemic, many potential treatments for Alzheimer’s are now in development,” said Weiner, who also is a professor of radiology, medicine, psychiatry, and neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s essential that we have the most sensitive possible imaging technologies at our disposal so that we can identify the most likely candidates for treatment, as well as monitor and assess the effects of these treatments in the brain.”

Weiner is principal investigator of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a nationwide $67 million longitudinal study of Alzheimer’s disease progression.

He says the improved techniques also will be applied to the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of many other neurological diseases and conditions. including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, Gulf War illness, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, HIV dementia, and other dementias.

Norbert Schuff, PhD, an imaging researcher at CIND and a professor of radiology at UCSF, said that the group aims to improve several brain imaging techniques: structural MRI, which looks at brain anatomy; perfusion, which measures cerebral blood flow; diffusion, which reflects tissue microstructure; and spectroscopy, which reveals brain biochemistry.

“The goal is to better capture alterations in brain structure, physiology, and metabolism in neurodegenerative diseases with improved sensitivity and resolution plus increased reliability,” said Schuff.

BTRC awards are granted to support researchers in the creation of critical, often unique technologies and methods at the forefronts of their respective fields and in their application to a broad range of basic, translational, and clinical research.

NCIRE - the Veterans Health Research Institute - is the largest research institute associated with a VA medical center. Its mission 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.

SFVAMC has the largest medical research program in the national VA system, with more than 200 research scientists, all of whom are faculty members at UCSF.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.