Meng group receives grant from NIH to develop innovative brain imaging system

3/13/2024 Phillip Kisubika

Written by Phillip Kisubika

Meng group receives grant from NIH to develop innovative brain imaging system

NPRE professor Ling-Jian Meng is leading a research effort to develop methods to study brain functions on a transformative scale.

Meng’s research project will integrate the disruptive, high-performance 3D CZT imaging-spectrometer technologies with a novel synthetic compound eye (SCE) camera design, as well as an innovative iterative image reconstruction method using deep-learning based priors to develop a next-generation clinical brain SPECT imaging system with transformative spatial resolution and imaging sensitivity that has been previously unattainable.

“The long-term objective is to apply this innovative imaging system to human brain SPECT studies using a collection of various SPECT radiotracers, and develop and advance physiological parametric imaging methodologies, in order to investigate the long-standing issues in neurobiology and improve our understanding of the interplay and relationship among cerebral blood flow and perfusion, brain tissue oxygenation, neuronal cell metabolism, and brain cell tracking under different cognitive challenges and biophysical conditions in healthy and in disease,” Meng said.

“We would envision the proposed system to serve as a unique imaging platform to significantly advance our understanding of neural cell biology and regional brain functions in response to various cognitive, behavioral, and physiological challenges by employing these unprecedentedly innovative SPECT imaging methodologies in order to assess all relevant quantitative physiological measurements that will be interpreted in an integrated fashion and synergistically so that new perspectives in brain research can be formulated.”

The project is funded through a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, a partnership between Federal and non-Federal partners with a common goal of accelerating the development of innovative neurotechnologies.

Through the application and dissemination of these scientific advancements, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.

Meng’s Radiation Detection and Imaging Group will be working with researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Essentially, we’re developing the imaging system and working on the core part of this product,” he said. “The people at Penn will be using the system to carry out the imaging studies, to evaluate and demonstrate it all.”

The timeline for the project is around five years, with Meng’s RDI group completing construction on the imaging system in the next two years and passing it on to the Penn researchers for clinical studies. Once that’s done, work can begin on improved versions of the technology.

“This device could potentially have a transformative impact on brain research by allowing for microscopic, multi-functional assessment of brain functions under various experimental conditions,” Meng said. “At this particular moment, it’s important to have imaging technology to help us better understand what’s happening in the brain. It’s a critical time for imaging scientists like us to provide those tools.”

The RDI group’s research efforts are currently funded by many large projects, and Meng estimates that this work makes his group one of the most active in this field and raises the standing of NPRE on the whole.

“This further consolidates our footprint in medical imaging,” he said. “We’re probably the most active and best-funded group in any nuclear engineering department when it comes to imaging. It also shows the uniqueness of this department.”

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This story was published March 13, 2024.