Brain imaging wins research grant

One of seven interdisciplinary projects funded at U of T
Jenny Hall

Brain imaging. It calls to mind massive MRI machines or CT scanners; a patient immobilized while the machine takes a scan of the brain.

What if you could go about your daily life while a machine you hardly noticed took images of your brain?

It might not be so far off, if Professor Ofer Levi of the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) has his way. And that future just got a little closer thanks to a $540,000 boost from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), in the form of a Collaborative Health Research Projects Program (CHRP) grant.

The CHRP supports interdisciplinary research projects that will lead to health benefits for Canadians, more effective health services or economic development in health-related areas.

Levi and his students are developing an optical imaging system that will monitor brain dynamics in patients with epilepsy and stroke. They and collaborators Tom Chau of IBBME and Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Peter Carlen and Taufik Valiante of Toronto Western Hospital and Bojana Stefanovic of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre are aiming for a low-cost, portable imaging system that would be a vast improvement on the status quo.
Current techniques, Levi says, “are large systems such as MRI or CT that are the size of a room. You have to be immobile. You can’t leave a patient more than an hour in them.” Optical technologies, on the other hand, offer portable solutions. “You can walk around, you can be awake.”

They’re also potentially much cheaper. The team has a working prototype built with the sorts of lasers you find in an optical computer mouse and the cameras found in a cell phone.

The next step is to shrink the prototype to allow for testing in rats, who will wear backpacks containing the imaging machinery. Once proven, they hope the technique will allow doctors to monitor the brain dynamics of human patients over a long period of time—on the order of days, rather than the hour or so allowed by current technology.

Levi will use his CHRP grant money to train students and to run experiments that will help develop the imaging system.

In addition to Levi, other U of T CHRP winners are:

• Virginijus Barzda of Chemical & Physical Sciences at U of T Mississauga, “Non-linear multimodal mircoendoscopy for lung cancer pathology;”

• Roman Genov of ECE, “Fully implantable wireless multi-electrode ECoG monitoring system;”

• Boris Hinz of Dentistry and IBBME, “High-throughput screening of cell contraction for applications in regenerative medicine and drug testing;”

• Steven A. Narod of Medicine, “The physiological impact of postmenopausal oophorectomy on hormone levels in women with BRCA1 mutation;”

• Michael Thompson of Chemistry, “Surface-oriented antibody capture of endothelial progenitor cells for the reduction of post-stent restenosis” and

• Peter Zandstra of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and IBBME, “Stem cell counting: Development and application .”

“Congratulations to all the winners, who are working to solve some of society’s most pressing health problems ” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research and innovation). “On behalf of the University of Toronto, I’d also like to thank NSERC and CIHR for recognizing the value of collaboration across traditional disciplinary boundaries. This is how innovation is inspired.”