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Scott E. Lukas, PhD, director of the McLean Imaging Center (MIC), can barely contain his excitement when describing McLean’s new 3 Tesla Siemens PRISMA MRI scanner. An extraordinary $3.75M grant from the Manton Foundation funded this state of the art acquisition. According to Lukas and fellow MIC Director Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, the new machine will enable McLean to take a huge leap forward in the effort to understand, treat, and help cure brain disorders.
Neuroimaging technology allows scientists to see how a brain works in real time. For instance, when a person with a substance use disorder is shown an image of a drug, researchers can monitor what part of the brain “lights up.” Imaging is essential to our understanding of psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents. Being able to identify and track deviations in normal brain development during childhood is a critical step toward identifying new treatments and may even help measure the success of current therapies.
Imaging also aids research into diseases impacting the geriatric population. Early detection of slowly developing brain disorders like Alzheimer’s is possible by imaging the brains of high-risk, healthy 50- to 60-year-olds to establish a baseline and then repeating the scan at regular intervals. This strategy could help identify the need for intervention. Dr. Brent Forester and his geriatric research team are particularly excited by the possibility of adding quality years to patients’ lives.
“The cutting-edge technology used in the PRISMA is tremendous,” says Dr. Lukas. It produces spectacular anatomical images and can measure brain chemicals, blood flow, brain activity/function, and connections among different brain regions. The lack of radiation means there is no limit to the number of times a patient can be scanned. The PRISMA’s features make it more effective for use with fragile patients than its predecessor—it is quieter, takes less time to capture images, and can handle the interference of movement, which is common with children or patients with tremors or anxiety disorders.
“The Foundation was beyond generous with their gift,” says Dr. Lukas. “They funded not only the magnet, but also the site preparation and support equipment, including a ‘mock’ scanner that acclimates patients to the MRI environment.”
The MIC has an older 3T Siemens magnet—a 3T TIM trio—which has been booked solid, with a waiting list of researchers clamoring for time. The PRISMA now doubles McLean’s 3T capacity for high-level research, opening time for clinical diagnostics, increasing McLean’s ability to train clinicians, and allowing researchers from institutions across Boston and beyond to book time for their imaging needs.
The PRISMA also will allow McLean to participate in the Human Connectome Project, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) effort to map neural connections, effectively creating a “wiring diagram” that offers new insights into the workings of the human brain.
“The PRISMA 3T will help us take an enormous step toward understanding psychiatric diseases,” says Dr. Lukas. “The Manton Foundation understood the importance of the groundbreaking research possible, and we are enormously grateful for their forward thinking generosity.”