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The institution's principal publication for alumni, friends and physicians.
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  F E A T U R E S  
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Summer 2002 Issue
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FEATURES
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BEYOND MRI: TAKING IMAGING TO UNCHARTED TERRAIN

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New imaging equipment at UC Davis Medical Center and cutting-edge technology being developed at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience are taking scientists deep into microscopic regions of the brain to better understand some of the most complex and disturbing disorders affecting the mind, from Alzheimer's disease and autism to schizophrenia and depression.

A new high-field MRI unit at the medical center will enable physicians to more closely study brain structure and function, which can lead to earlier diagnosis of disease, possibly before the loss of function occurs. Designated specifically for research, the functional MRI unit contains terraina 3-Tesla magnet, which has twice the power of standard MRI units. The high-field strength produces clearer images of the brain and captures brain functions that are too small or occur too quickly to image with standard units.

Another important imaging project, led by neuroscientist Edward Jones, is taking imaging to uncharted terrain. With a $2 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation and a $6.5 million Human Brain Project grant, Jones is developing a three-dimensional, digital model of the brain to help scientists more easily retrieve, view and evaluate brain structure and function. The comprehensive model will include images from whole brain regions and conduction pathways to expressed genes and other molecules in cells.

"While classical magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography give us good images of the brain's surface, we want to go beneath the brain's surface so we can visualize groups of nerve cells, individual cells and parts of cells to better understand how they interrelate," Jones said.

State-of-the-art digital imaging equipment and expertise at the Center for Image Processing and Integrated Computing and the Center for Neuroscience are making this goal a reality. The ambitious new project harnesses the expertise of molecular biologists, neuropathologists, neuro-anatomists, neurophysiologists, developmental neurobiologists, computer scientists and bioinformatics specialists. It also uses new computer visualization tools that will enable scientists to create and manipulate large three-dimensional models of the brain using data from digitized tissue slides, as well as CT, MRI and PET scans.

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An important part of the project involves integrating existing data on the brain into three-dimensional digital images, or "brain atlases." Some of this involves scanning microscope slides of monkey and human brain tissue into digital files, which are then stacked to generate a three-dimensional model.

Researchers at the Center for Neuroscience and the Center for Image Processing and Integrated Computing are developing the backbone of the model. Eventually, users will be able to navigate from macroscopic to microscopic views to see a variety of details, such as how the expression of genes varies among brain regions and how neural pathways connect different brain regions and structures.

New software also will allow the addition of other types of images from research in progress and non-image data into the model and link the UC Davis project to other databases in the world.

"We are going beyond the mere collection of high-resolution images of human and monkey brains," said Jones. "We want to integrate the work of scientists in different disciplines who use various imaging formats to understand brain structure and function. It is important that these data are available by computer networks to other scientists around the world."

Jones is committed to the sharing of knowledge between scientists investigating schizophrenia and depression and those working on the fundamental mechanisms of brain development.

"In our quest for the causes of schizophrenia and depression, we'll be taking visualization of the brain to an entirely new level."

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  "We want to integrate the work of scientists in different disciplines who use various imaging formats to understand brain structure and function. It is important that these data are available by computer networks to other scientists around the world." — Edward Jones.  
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