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$1.7 Million NIH Grant Sets Up University of Utah to Buy Small-Animal MRI Scanner for New Research Center

Aug. 17, 2006 — The University of Utah has been awarded a $1.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to buy the school’s first small-animal magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI).

The Bruker BioSpec 7/30 scanner will be the centerpiece of a new School of Medicine core research facility and enable University researchers to image the anatomy of a mouse through its entire life-without harming the animal, according to Edward W. Hsu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering and principal investigator on the grant. Hsu also is a member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah.

The University received the grant through the NIH”s High-End Instrumentation program at the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). Fourteen of the nation’s top research universities received grants of up to $2 million under the program.

The scanner, which arrives at the University in about a year, will open numerous possibilities for research in diseases from cancer and Alzheimer”s to basic science and technology development. There is not a similar MRI in Utah.

“The University is a world leader in developing small-animal models of human diseases,Hsu said. “Now, we will have an instrument that enables researchers to study animal soft-tissue anatomy and function in far more detail than ever before.”

At the Brain Institute, for example, this means more powerful methods for studying complex neurological disorders, such as autism and multiple sclerosis, according to Thomas N. Parks, Ph.D., the institute’s executive director and professor and chair of neurobiology and anatomy at the medical school.

“Small-animal imaging is an essential bridge between genetic research, animal disease models, and human diagnosis and treatment,” Parks said.

The grant pays most of the cost for the project, but the University and other institutions are required to fund some overhead expenses. Private donations and University funds will cover those expenses at the U, according to Hsu.

Other projects funded with grants this year include a supercomputer at the University of Washington for studying lung and liver diseases; an MRI University of Pennsylvania researchers will use to study neurodegenerative disorders, cancer detection, and cardiovascular disease; and an ultra-high resolution MRI to study diabetes, epilepsy, and learning disorders at Yale University.

“The High-End Instrumentation program provides numerous investigators access to essential equipment, often benefiting entire research communities and dramatically advancing their research projects,” said Barbara M. Alving, M.D., acting director of the NCRR. “These awards spur the kind of scientific discoveries necessary for the development of treatments for a broad spectrum of diseases.”

The goal of University core facilities is to make technology and expertise available to researchers and students across campus for the U of U to fulfill its mission as a research university.

Dennis L. Parker, Ph.D., professor of radiology and biomedical informatics, director of the Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Research, and Brain Institute member, is the grant co-principal investigator. John M. Hoffman, M.D., professor of radiology at the U of U School of Medicine and an investigator with the Brain Institute and Huntsman Cancer Institute, is chair of the new core facility’s advisory committee.

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The University of Utah Health Sciences Center is internationally regarded for its research and clinical expertise in the health sciences. Through its School of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing, College of Health, and Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, the Health Sciences Center conducts pioneering research in human genetics, pharmaceutical drugs, cancer, and numerous other areas of medicine. The Health Sciences Center also is the major training ground for Utah’s physicians, pharmacists, nurses, therapists, and other health-care professionals.