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Pitt’s Ibrahim Awarded NIH Funding for RF Brain Imaging Work

Photonics.com
May 2018
PITTSBURGH, May 18, 2018 — Over the past two years, bioengineering professor Tamer Ibrahim and his lab at the University of Pittsburgh have secured nearly $5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his radio frequency (RF) coil system capable of high-resolution brain imaging.

The University of Pittsburgh houses a whole-body 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imager (7T MRI), one of the strongest human MRI devices in the world and a powerful imaging tool that allows researchers to gain a far better understanding of brain structure and function. Multiple grants from the NIH total more than $18 million and extend through 2022 to fund the development and use of innovative 7T human imaging technologies.

Ibrahim and his team of bioengineering graduate students constructed and optimized the "Tic-Tac-Toe" RF coil system for 7T human MRI devices. This system is a collection of transmit antennas and receive antennas that are tightly arranged to fit the human head. It was designed through many hours of computer simulations using full-wave electromagnetic software developed in his lab. Ibrahim runs the Radiofrequency Research Facility and conducts experimental and human studies with the device — one of only five dozen 7T MRI machines in the world.
7T angiography in late life depression patients with the 'Tic-Tac-Toe' RF coil system and without the use of invasive contrast agents. While not feasible at 3T, 7T super high resolution acquisitions (voxel size is 0.2 mm in all directions) significantly improve the conspicuity of small arterioles. Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Radiofrequency Research Facility.
7T angiography in late-life depression patients with the "Tic-Tac-Toe" RF coil system and without the use of invasive contrast agents. Though not feasible at 3T, 7T superhigh-resolution acquisitions (voxel size is 0.2 mm in all directions) significantly improve the conspicuity of small arterioles. Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Radiofrequency Research Facility.

Although advancements have been made, several major obstacles still face neuro 7T imaging, such as considerable scanning and preparation time for every subject, significant RF excitation intensity losses, potential RF heating, and concerns regarding the unclear RF safety assurance between different subjects.

"The Tic-Tac-Toe RF coil system is a design that addresses many of the technical difficulties associated with ultrahigh-field human MRI," Ibrahim said. "Our system provides highly consistent and homogeneous excitation across different patients, which in turn provides improved images."

A recent grant will allow Ibrahim to use the technology to investigate small-vessel disease, which affects a large percentage of the U.S. population, in older adults with depression. Research into the disease has been hindered, in part, by the inadequacies of traditional imaging. In this $3.1 million project, Ibrahim uses the "Tic-Tac-Toe" RF coil system and develops a new 7T RF coil system to better understand the neurological issues, treatment, and management of depression.

"White matter hyperintensities (WMH) in the brain are a hallmark symptom of small-vessel disease, which has been associated with depression in older adults," Ibrahim said. "Traditional MR imaging does not provide enough detail; thus, researchers cannot determine the specific mechanisms that contribute to depression. Ultrahigh-field MR imaging allows for greater specificity of the WMH lesions and other components of small-vessel disease, which will give us a better understanding of depression as a whole."

In addition to the work on depression, Ibrahim's developed technology has contributed to research in a variety of other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, sickle cell disease, and major depressive disorder.

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