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Vanderbilt engineering professor wins National Science Foundation award

May. 27, 2005, 10:54 AM

NASHVILLE, TENN. ñ Mark D. Does, Vanderbilt assistant professor of
biomedical engineering and assistant professor of radiology and
radiological sciences, has won a prestigious National Science
Foundation (NSF) award.

The NSF CAREER award, given to exceptional junior faculty to support
their promising research, will help fund Does‘ research and development
of new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques.

Does‘ work will help advance the application of MRI technology to
more precisely analyze bodily tissues at the cellular level,
particularly in the brain, the spinal cord and the heart. His research
will help researchers get a better understanding of diseases such as
multiple sclerosis. In multiple sclerosis, degeneration of the sheath
of myelin that insulates the nerve cells causes the cells to short out
and fail to communicate with each other.

“MRI cannot visualize myelin directly, so we are looking at ways to
infer its presence,” Does said. “Our immediate objective is simply to
measure how much myelin is present, with a longer term goal of
distinguishing between healthy myelin and myelin that has broken down.”

MRI technology is based on recording the energy outputs, in radio
frequencies, of tissues subjected to a complex series of forces
emanating from magnets and radio frequency transmitters. It has proven
to be one of the most effective ways to non-invasively see what is
happening within the body.

Starting with a gigantic magnet so heavy that most hospitals must
install them on the ground floor, MRI includes a series of additional
electromagnets called gradients that vary the magnetic field within the
body, a system of radio frequency transmitters and receivers, and a
computer that makes images out of the resulting data.

“MRI was devised only 30 years ago,” Does said, “and while it has
become a mainstay in clinical radiology, it is rich in capabilities,
and we are far from utilizing it to its full potential.”

Does noted that, while the knowledge base of tissue characteristics
using MRI technology is vast, the expansion of the scientific database
from the tissue level down to the cellular level can lead to many new
MRI methods and applications.

Part of Does‘ research will examine tissues highlighted by the
addition of manganese, a contrast agent injected into the patient. The
manganese is readily taken up by calcium channels, which are used to
transmit electrical signals through nerve cells. Manganese is strongly
imaged by MRI equipment.

Does is one of the core members of the Vanderbilt University
Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS) and directs its Center for Small
Animal Imaging. The VUIIS is a multidisciplinary institute drawing from
the School of Engineering, the School of Medicine and the College of
Arts and Science. The institute conducts research ranging from cancer
imaging to transgenic mouse imaging. The institute has special
expertise in functional MRI, an exceptionally fast MRI technique that
can track quick changes in tissue due to blood flow alterations.

Media contact: Vivian Cooper-Capps, (615) 322-2762

David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803