NIH BRAIN Initiative grant




Dr. Pratik Mukherjee, Director of CIND, is one of five UCSF neuroscientist to receive one of NIH's first research grant to support President Obama’s BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative.

Project Narrative

If successful, the new technology developed in this project will dramatically improve our ability to visualize the structures and functions of human brain cortex. As a new research tool, it can not only transform the understanding of networks within our brain, but also provide potential high impact in the care of mental health, traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy among many other debilitating brain diseases and disorders.

Project Summary

MRI is the only technology that can image the connectivity of the human brain in vivo and non-invasively. However, neither BOLD fMRI nor diffusion-based fiber tracking has been able to break the barrier of 1-mm voxel spatial resolution. Yet, 1-mm voxel contains roughly 50,000 neuronal cells and the human cortex is less than 5 mm thick. The disparity between the spatial scales has thus created a large gap between MRI studies of the whole brain and optical imaging and cell recordings of groups of neurons. The overarching objective of this proposal is to bring noninvasive human brain imaging into the microscale resolution and begin to bridge studies of neuronal circuitry and network organization in the human brain. Our breakthrough technology, termed MR Corticography (MRCoG), will achieve dramatic gains in spatial and temporal resolutions by focusing exclusively to the cortex. Higher-sensitivity coil sensors will be designed that tailor to the superficial volume of the brain. MRCoG will also be used to map intracortical axonal connectivity, overcoming a fundamental resolution limit inherent to all in vivo human neuronal fiber tractography to date by replacing diffusion imaging with a novel susceptibility contrast mapping of axon fibers. Innovative imaging pulse sequences will be designed to complement the high-sensitivity coil arrays to achieve higher spatial resolution in the neocortex. The improved capabilities of these sensors will be further exploited using new, vastly more efficient spatial multiplexed and temporal multiplexed image acquisition to further accelerate scanning by taking advantage of spatiotemporal sparsity. In summary, the proposed research will create a novel technology for imaging the human brain’s neocortex with barrier-breaking resolution and contrast. MRCoG will facilitate the integration between in vivo non-invasive human-brain MRI and cellular and genetic imaging techniques. If successful, it will fundamentally transform our ability to study the human brain. Because it is based on MRI, MRCoG can be readily translated to patient care, providing potential high impact in the care of mental health, traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy among many other debilitating brain diseases and disorders.

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New 7T Magnet

February 10, 2014

In December 2013 the SFVAMC joined a small, elite group of research centers that perform human imaging research with an ultra-high field MRI scanner as the 7 Tesla MRI scanner arrived.

In general, MRI scanners that operate at higher magnetic field provide improved signal strength, which can be used to improve image quality or image resolution. At present, clinical MRI systems operate at field strengths up to 3 Tesla, where Tesla is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field. The SFVA currently has two 3 T Siemens Skyra MRI scanners, one which is 100% dedicated for research investigations. Higher field MRI instruments, such as 7 Tesla MRI scanners, are available for research purposes.

The new 7T MRI instrument from Siemens Healthcare will be used at the SFVAMC by researchers at the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases (CIND), as well as by other collaborators at SFVAMC and UCSF. It will be used for a variety of research projects impacting veterans’ health, including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease. We expect the 7T to be available for research use in spring 2014.