Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute has been receiving new research equipment tied to human brain function for weeks. A magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI) will be delivered Nov. 17 and is noteworthy in that it weighs 30,000 pounds and is a critical tool for important new programs, including the Roanoke Brain Study.
"The research will include a large scale worldwide analysis of the development of human brain function and decision-making," says Michael J. Friedlander, executive director of the research institute.
A second MRI will be delivered in December. They will be part of the new Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit to be directed by Read Montague, developer of the process known as hyperscanning. Read joined the institute as a professor Nov. 15, and also is a professor of physics at Virginia Tech.
The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute investigators will functionally interconnect the two Roanoke MRIs with one that was installed in October at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg. "These interconnections allow investigators to carry out interactive functional brain imaging studies between multiple individuals at different sites simultaneously, providing unparalleled access to monitor the brain’s activity during social interactions where pairs of groups of individuals communicate with each other through computer interfaces," says Friedlander. "We will be able to study how such human behavior known as social cognition functions in health and after it is affected in certain disorders that can affect the brain during childhood and throughout the lifespan, such as autism spectrum disorders, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, and even in conditions such as substance abuse."
The safe, non-invasive technology – using no radiation – will allow Virginia Tech Carilion researchers to study how various thoughts, behaviors, and sensations affect the activity within the billions of nerve cells within the brain. This occurs while studying normal healthy volunteers or persons who may have experienced a change in brain function due to such conditions as stroke, head injury, or various brain disorders that may occur throughout the lifetime.
The Virginia Tech Carilion research team has also developed a worldwide interactive functional brain imaging research network that provides the capacity to interconnect MRIs from multiple sites across the United States and throughout the world.
Agreements are underway with sites in Asia and Europe, says Friedlander. Such functional brain imaging experiments generate large amounts of data that must be stored and analyzed in a protected environment. The research institute manages this with a large adjacent data center that houses multiple racks of computer clusters that collect, store, and process the images and brain responses.