UA lands $2M NIH grant to buy MRI for brain research

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Thursday, July 6, 2023 - 2:25pm

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Zoe Lambert/UA Department of Biomedical Engineering
Primary investigator Ted Trouard with the university's current Siemens 3T Skyra MRI. The new MRI will sport hardware that can produce faster, clearer and more comprehensive brain images.

University of Arizona has won a highly competitive $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to purchase a cutting-edge research MRI optimized for brain imaging.

The BIO5 Institute, which focuses on interdisciplinary research in biology, biomedicine, biotechnology, bioengineering and bioinformatics, collaborated on the proposal. UA’s Office for Research, Innovation and Impact will pony up $1.14 million to cover the balance.

When approved this summer and delivered this fall, the Siemens Healthineers instrument will be the most powerful FDA-approved 3T MRI in the world optimized for brain imaging.

T refers to Tesla, a unit of magnetic field strength named for inventor Nikola Tesla. Most clinical MRIs generate 1.5T or 3T (30,000 or 60,000 times Earth’s magnetic field strength, respectively). MRIs need such high-strength fields to align atomic nuclei – the first step in imaging the body.

But not all MRIs are created equal.

Brain MRIs are specially tuned to measure blood flow, track blood oxygen levels, image blood vessels and trace water movement in brain tissue.

Such instruments require very high resolutions to capture the brain’s intricate anatomical structures and abnormalities, which can span area as small as a few cells across.

The new instrument, which will double UA’s current research MRI capacity, can rapidly change its magnetic field to boost resolution and scan speed, and to improve real-time brain activity measurements like fMRI.

UA says 18 investigators working on nearly two dozen health sciences, psychology and engineering projects already have plans to use the instrument.