University of Nevada, Reno and Renown Health announce partnership for brain fMRI research

New functional MRI technology studies human brain function, aims to understand how the brain works

Fang Jiang, new assistant professor in the Brain and Cognitive Science group within the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Psychology, studies images created by new fMRI technology at Renown Health purchased as part of a University’s National Institutes of Health grant. Photo provided by Renown Health.

12/15/2014 | By: Natalie Savidge  |

University of Nevada, Reno neuroscientists are working with Renown Health to bring new research capabilities to northern Nevada. The research group, led by University Professor of Psychology Michael Webster, has purchased equipment that augments the existing 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology at Renown Health for studies of human brain function. A standard MRI scan can produce anatomical images which reveal the physical structure of the brain. The new equipment will allow the same technology to be used to measure patterns of neural activity in the brain, and is known as functional MRI (fMRI).

"fMRI can be used to measure which parts of the brain are activated when we look at a picture or try to remember an event," Webster said. "fMRI has revolutionized the field of neuroscience and has led to many new discoveries about how the brain works and how it is affected by injury or disease. However, until now, this technology has not been available in northern Nevada."  

The new equipment was purchased through the University's Center for Integrative Neuroscience with part of a $10 million competitive National Institutes of Health grant. The grant was awarded to Webster in 2012 to establish a Center of Biomedical Research and Excellence (COBRE) and to build neuroscience research on campus. By joining forces with Renown's existing MRI facility, the University can now mount fMRI research for a fraction of the cost required to build a facility from scratch. The equipment was installed recently at Renown Regional Medical Center.  

The Center for Integrative Neuroscience brings together neuroscience researchers from many units at the University including psychology, biology, biomedical engineering and the School of Medicine. The program provides funding for promising junior researchers in these areas and is designed to build resources and faculty to allow a university to become a leading force in important areas of biomedical science. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards the biomedical research excellence grants to institutions that have significant expertise already established in the area of study; in this case, neuroscience.  

This new research opportunity was made possible through close collaboration between Lars Strother, director of the Center's Neuroimaging Core, and Rich Conley, director of imaging at Renown Health. Strother recently joined the University and brings a strong research background in fMRI.  

"Providing access to this technology for basic and clinical researchers represents an enormous leap forward for brain research at the University and Renown, and will make the University more competitive for research grants and for recruiting faculty and students in the neurosciences," Webster said.  

The fMRI facility was key in recruiting Fang Jiang as a new assistant professor in the Brain and Cognitive Science group within the University's Department of Psychology. Fang uses fMRI to study individuals with vision or hearing impairments to understand how the brain compensates for the loss of a sense. She comes to the University with a prestigious grant award from the NIH that supports rising research stars.  

The partnership is representative of a new era of collaboration between the University and Renown Health, which recently formalized an affiliation agreement with a number of initiatives, including a joint Chair of Pediatrics position.  

"The installment and introduction of this equipment also complements recent initiatives in neuroscience education at the University," Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Carman said. "The University has a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in neuroscience - with more than 300 students currently majoring in the degree - and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in neuroscience is in development."  

The proposal for the new interdisciplinary master of science/doctoral degree program in integrative neuroscience is slated to be presented to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents at their March 2015 meeting.  

Learn more online about the Center for Integrative Neuroscience and the research happening at the University. 


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