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The More You See, The More You Know

Mar 18, 2007 6:00 PM

Greater Precision in Medical Imaging Advances Understanding of Human Disease

When German physicist William Conrad Roentgen discovered a ray that mysteriously passed through solid matter, he didn't know what to call the perplexing form of energy. The future Nobel Prize winner solved the problem by using a mathematical symbol that denotes an unknown quantity--the letter X.

Roentgen's 1895 discovery of the X-ray signaled a new era in medicine. Within a few years, doctors were X-raying broken bones and examining the human anatomy as never before.

That was just the precursor of a new medical science that Roentgen likely could not have imagined.

During the next century, physicians and researchers would make stunningly detailed images of the brain, blood vessels, and soft tissues, using powerful magnets and scanners that track isotopes in the body. Today it's possible to identify tumors the size of a fingernail, visualize a brain aneurysm, diagnose heart problems, and study diseases ranging from clogged arteries to Alzheimer's to multiple sclerosis.

"Our ability to see inside the human body is becoming more precise and, as a result, our understanding of disease is growing," said Dennis L. Parker, Ph.D., professor of radiology and biomedical informatics at the School of Medicine, and holder of the Mark H. Huntsman Endowed Chair in Advanced Medical Technologies. "Changes in imaging science have had a real impact on treating patients, and we are excited to be a part of that."

"We" are the researchers and staff of the Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Research (UCAIR) at the University of Utah. Established in 2002 as the research arm of the Department of Radiology at the School of Medicine, UCAIR is housed in the University's Center for Advanced Medical Technology in Research Park. UCAIR has three primary goals: to conduct research on the development of instruments, procedures, and software for better ways to image the human body and study disease; to educate the researchers of tomorrow by mentoring graduate and postgraduate students; and to provide collaboration and support for the imaging needs of investigators across the campus and region.

UCAIR's faculty of about 15 Ph.D. and M.D. researchers, directed by Parker, is recognized internationally for its work in some of the most advanced imaging technologies available: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); computed tomography (CT); positron emission tomography (PET); and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).

The type of innovative research UCAIR undertakes has brought imaging and the practice of radiology to the fore of medical advancements, according to Edwin A. "Steve" Stevens, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Radiology, and holder of the H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Endowed Chair in Radiology. "For so long, imaging was focused on anatomy," he said. "Now we're able to study the evolution of disease, diagnose tumors, and look at the molecular signature of chemotherapy to see how well it's working. That all comes from research."

With powerful and advanced MRI and CT scanners, along with PET and SPECT, the center is involved in all types of medical imaging research.

Read the complete article at Health Sciences Report

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