BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERS are used to working at the interface of multiple disciplines and acting as interpreters in order to enable rapid and impactful collaborative science across a broad spectrum of disciplines. For many, including myself, it is this very fact which makes our pursuit of science so enjoyable. Due to the characteristics embodied by imaging: fundamentals based in the physical sciences and engineering, the capability to be applied to a plethora of (patho)physiologies, and clinical application, imaging naturally attracts biomedical engineers.
PRECLINICAL IMAGING can contribute to the better understanding of physiology, pathophysiology, therapeutic development, and imaging science. It, undoubtedly, holds the potential to help more successfully translate research from bench to bedside but is still, largely, in its nascent phase. When considering the use of preclinical imaging, the characteristics of the various imaging tools (a.k.a. modalities – CT, US, PET, SPECT, Optical ) must be considered. For example:
- What information can the imaging tool provide?
- Anatomical, functional, cellular, molecular … all of which are dependent on the sensitivity and spatial/temporal resolution of the modality.
- How much time is required?
- Acquisition, analysis, and personnel
- What are the limitations of the imaging tool?
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI) is a unique tool available to the preclinical imaging expert. Admittedly, it is infamous for its: lack of sensitivity; numerous potential artifacts; and, big, expensive equipment. However, it is famous for its:
- Excellent soft tissue contrast
- Variety of contrast mechanisms
- Non-ionizing radiation
WHAT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED USING PRECLINICAL MRI?
- Validate preclinical models
- Phenotyping (anatomical, physiological, pathophysiological)
- Assess blood-brain barrier status
- Assess function
- Cell tracking: exogenous cells that have been injected (e.g. therapeutic stem cells); or, endogenous cells (e.g. macrophages)
- Query/confirm molecular pathways of interest
- Test the efficacy of candidate molecules (antibody and small molecules) or surgical approaches
- Address basic science questions like:
- How do cardiovascular biomechanics scale across species?
- Do cancer stem cells exist and, if so, are there different types?
- Study the following pathophysiologies (not an all-inclusive list!): peripheral artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysms, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, glioblastoma multiforme, medulloblastoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis.
- Imaging methods development, including combining it with in silico tools such as computational fluid dynamics.
VISION (“descriptive picture of a desired future state”):
Create and maintain a state-of-the-art preclinical magnetic resonance imaging research group committed to basic and translational science that influences the fields of physiology, pathophysiology, therapeutic development, and imaging science.
MISSION (“the means of successfully achieving the vision”):
- Apply focus to specific areas of physiology, pathophysiology, imaging science, and therapeutic development to cultivate world-leading know-how and results. (See Research Interests for more definition).
Identify scientific opportunities that allow for immediate impact due to image acquisition and analysis being well worked out but not applied to preclinical models to their fullest potential, a very common situation. This could occur via collaboration.
VALUES (“drive a [lab’s] culture and priorities and provide a framework in which decisions are made”):
Provide leadership in:
- Defining the physiology and pathophysiology that would benefit most by the application of preclinical imaging.
- Implementing or developing the necessary imaging methodology.
- Establishing novel funding mechanisms.
Provide mentorship to the next generation of bioengineers through germane classwork and guiding students through challenging but attainable laboratory research objectives.
Provide collaboration across any and all departments, or external organizations, when preclinical imaging can have a significant impact on understanding the subject matter of interest.
Apply enthusiasm, expertise, and empathy to achieve efficient and effective scientific results with far-reaching influence.
STRATEGY (“a combination of the ends (goals) for which the [lab] is striving and the means (policies) by which it is seeking to get there”):
The end goal is always to do superlative science, with a focus on basic and translational science related to unmet medical needs.
The means by which to achieve this goal would be two-fold, and they are listed here in prioritized order:
- Be driven by the biological question.
- Then, define the MR imaging and complementary methods (possibly through collaborations!) to best answer the biological question.
(Definitions for vision, mission, values, and strategy are taken from wikipedia.org with slight modifications)