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UA lands $2M NIH grant to buy MRI for brain research

University of Arizona has won a highly competitive $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to purchase a cutting-edge research MRI optimized for brain imaging.

The BIO5 Institute, which focuses on interdisciplinary research in biology, biomedicine, biotechnology, bioengineering and bioinformatics, collaborated on the proposal. UA’s Office for Research, Innovation and Impact will pony up $1.14 million to cover the balance.

When approved this summer and delivered this fall, the Siemens Healthineers instrument will be the most powerful FDA-approved 3T MRI in the world optimized for brain imaging.

T refers to Tesla, a unit of magnetic field strength named for inventor Nikola Tesla. Most clinical MRIs generate 1.5T or 3T (30,000 or 60,000 times Earth’s magnetic field strength, respectively). MRIs need such high-strength fields to align atomic nuclei – the first step in imaging the body.

But not all MRIs are created equal.

Brain MRIs are specially tuned to measure blood flow, track blood oxygen levels, image blood vessels and trace water movement in brain tissue.

Such instruments require very high resolutions to capture the brain’s intricate anatomical structures and abnormalities, which can span area as small as a few cells across.

The new instrument, which will double UA’s current research MRI capacity, can rapidly change its magnetic field to boost resolution and scan speed, and to improve real-time brain activity measurements like fMRI.

UA says 18 investigators working on nearly two dozen health sciences, psychology and engineering projects already have plans to use the instrument.

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Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.