$3.8 million NIH grant funds WUSTL brain imaging center

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have received a five-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for a center that helps researchers collect and use data on the brain and central nervous system.

The Neuroimaging Informatics and Analysis Center (NIAC) supports WUSTL scientists whose research involves brain and central nervous system imaging, according to associate director Daniel Marcus, PhD, research assistant professor of radiology at the university’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

“Scans of the brain and other central nervous system structures can get computationally intensive,” Marcus says. “The analysis of structural brain data on a single patient, for example, consumes significant computing time, and some studies involve scans of a thousand subjects or more.

“We’re here to support the storage, processing and analysis of that data,” Marcus says.

As an example of such data-intensive studies, Marcus says that Alzheimer’s researchers working to understand the disorder’s effects on the brain and develop better diagnostic techniques often need to conduct detailed analyses of multiple brain regions.

Directed by Mark Mintun, MD, vice chair for research in radiology and professor of radiology, of neurobiology and of psychiatry, the NIAC comprises three cores: an informatics core, a data analysis core and an administrative/educational core.

The informatics core runs an imaging database, the Central Neuroimaging Data Archive, that includes data from both research scanners in radiology and clinical scanning data from Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Included are scanning results and other potentially relevant data on subjects such as demographics and clinical outcomes, with personal identification data removed to protect patient privacy.

One major mission of the informatics core, according to Marcus, is to help funnel large volumes of data from scanners to a new supercomputer in the Electronic Radiology Lab for expedited analysis.

NIAC’s data analysis core researches, refines and applies the latest approaches for transforming the scanner results into information that can be used for medical research.

“As the cutting-edge techniques for processing this raw data emerge and become somewhat stable, our job is to bring them into production,” Mintun says. “NIAC speeds up the computer code and clears bottlenecks and bugs so investigators across the spectrum of research can apply these new techniques to their own data.”

In addition to running the NIAC, the administrative core supports educational programs, including a seminar series, tutorials and training programs.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.