The neuroimaging community at The University of Iowa has a long history of pioneering imaging technologies and producing outstanding science. It is widely recognized as one of the major leaders in the field and has been for many years. The applications of Computerized Tomography (CT) to study brain diseases were pioneered here in the late 1970s, thereby placing Iowa at the forefront of what was to become a new major discipline within neuroscience and psychiatry: neuroimaging. The first study to use MR imaging to identify brain abnormalities in mental illnesses (specifically schizophrenia) was conducted here and published in 1986, followed by a study of bipolar disorder in 1990. Iowa has also had a major role in method development, including image processing software (the various iterations of BRAINS) and examination of reliability and validity issues. This interdisciplinary work required collaborations between psychiatrists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, biomedical engineers, and biostatisticians. This, in combination with functional imaging studies using PET conducted beginning in the early 1990s, established Iowa as a pioneering national and international leader in the emerging field of neuroimaging. Again, the work was made possible by interdisciplinary collaborations between psychiatrists, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, radiochemists, physicists, biostatisticians, and experts in nuclear medicine.
Current work continues to be both interdisciplinary and cutting edge. Our Iowa group has substantially improved the automation of image processing tools so that large numbers of scans can be measured rapidly and with excellent reproducibility. This development is particularly important because Iowa is responsible for managing a number of very large imaging data sets, including both cross-sectional and longitudinal scans, for a variety of diseases: schizophrenia, substance abuse, autism, cleft lip and palate, Huntington’s disease, disorders of aging such as mild cognitive impairment, anxiety and mood disorders, anorexia nervosa, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. A number of investigators are also currently working on another new frontier: the integration of neuroimaging and genomics and the effort to refine phenotype definitions using neuroimaging measures.
As the number of individuals doing neuroimaging research within the Department of Psychiatry continued to increase and as our interdisciplinary emphasis continued to grow, our group has continued to expand within the neuroscience community on campus. We now have research collaborations with the radiology, neurology, and neurosurgery departments within the College of Medicine, as well as collaborations with the Department of Psychology and the College of Engineering. Because our work extends well beyond the boundaries of a single department or a single discipline, the overall group is called the Iowa Neuroimaging Consortium (INC).
INC research has access to state-of-the-art resources that are housed within the Department of Radiology and within the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging. See facilities. Investigators are using these to examine a broad range of questions. Their work includes the study of the normal brain within the context of brain development across the lifespan and gender differences, in addition to a variety of diseases. Functional imaging is used to examine cognitive processes such as memory, decision-making, attention, and perception. In addition to standard structural measurements, fiber tracking methods are available using Diffusion Tensor Imaging. Novel techniques to measure brain pH have also been developed. Within the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Center, investigators study cognitive processes, the effects of drugs, and neurodegeneration by mapping cerebral blood flow using quantitative [15O]water, metabolism using [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), and amyloid burden using [11C]PIB (Pittsburgh Compound B (PiB)) or [18F]florbetapir.
The Iowa neuroimaging program has played a significant role in training new investigators in the field. An NIMH-funded T32 grant, Research Training in Major Psychoses and Clinical Neurobiology, supports 4-5 post-doctoral training slots. Additional post-doctoral trainees from around the US and the world also receive training through other grant mechanisms, such as RO1s. INC maintains close ties with the pre-doctoral Neuroscience Program led by Dan Tranel. It also provides training for a variety of medical students and undergrad students. We see the training of future investigators as an important part of our research mission.
Our goals fit very well into the Carver College of Medicine (CCOM) effort to strengthen integrative neuroscience on the University of Iowa campus. They are as follows:
- Encouraging investigators from multiple disciplines (psychiatry, neurology, neuropsychology, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, biostatistics, radiology) to collaborate with one another and to strengthen the overall neuroimaging efforts at the University of Iowa.
- Providing a set of core resources that are available to neuroimaging investigators that will facilitate their research efforts (e.g., image processing tools, IT support, advice concerning experimental design).
- Providing a structure that permits more efficient collaboration and coordination of efforts.
- Providing a forum through which resources that will provide fiscal stability for INC can be discussed and identified (e.g., planning grants, sharing information about NIH and private foundation resources).
- Coordinating resources so that younger investigators can be fostered into becoming independent researchers and be able to later contribute to the overall financial and scientific goals of the INC.
- Providing an educational resource through which investigators relatively new to the field can increase their knowledge about neuroimaging tools and their skill in using them (e.g., medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, junior faculty).
- Identifying emerging areas and technologies, particularly in translational medicine, and achieving their implementation.
- Interacting with leading neuroimaging research teams at the national and international level in order to develop collaborations that further advance knowledge of brain diseases and normal brain function.