UCI receives major grant to help create national methods and standards for functional brain imaging

$24 million study will allow for large-scale imaging studies on brain disease and illness

Irvine, Calif., March 13, 2006 -- A nationwide consortium of researchers, led by UC Irvine brain imaging specialist Dr. Steven Potkin, has received a $24.3 million grant from the NIH's National Center for Research Resources to standardize functional magnetic resonance imaging and help make large-scale studies on brain disease and illness possible for the first time.

The five-year grant marks the next phase of the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN), which was formed in 2001 to build the technology and methods needed for researchers to share brain scan data. UCI is the lead site for the consortium grant, which is the second-largest in the campus' history.

This new effort will focus on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a method of magnetic scanning that reveals detailed pictures of brain activity corresponding to the performance of a wide array of mental tasks and the effects of chemicals, such as hormones and drugs. fMRI is a unique research tool, as it allows researchers to ascertain subtleties in the process of thought.

"There are around 7,000 locations in the U.S. right now doing MRI scanning, yet there is no way to combine the data in a useful way from these sites," said Potkin, the Robert R. Sprague Director of the Brain Imaging Center and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UCI. "Our effort gives researchers from around the country the tools necessary to do multi-site imaging studies for the first time."

Although brain imaging technology has generated remarkable progress in understanding how mental and neurological diseases develop, it has been nearly impossible for one laboratory to share and compare findings with other labs. A lack of coordinated networks for sharing data, plus limitations in compatible imaging and computer hardware and software, have isolated scientists. This isolation has barred researchers from collaborative efforts that could provide the large database of brain images needed for a comprehensive look at brain dysfunction.

By allowing laboratory scientists and clinical investigators to share and mine large quantities of data related to a particular disease, Potkin and his BIRN colleagues at UCI and throughout the network hope to speed the rate of discoveries and their translation to treatments for diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, depression and dementia. Based on success in the neuroscience studies, the overall BIRN project will expand to create a sustainable, scalable, widely available electronic infrastructure that supports and encourages collaborative biomedical research in a broad range of diseases.

The UCI-based consortium is called Function BIRN (FBIRN) and is focused on understanding the hallucinations and abnormal emotional responses characteristic of schizophrenia. In the first phase of the project:

  • FBIRN established for the first time that the difference between MRI scanners and techniques across centers is so great that the value of multi-site studies is undermined, and
  • FBIRN developed calibration and correction methods to mitigate these obstacles and allow multi-site studies to realize their potential.

"Through this effort, we are creating new models for collaboration among researchers who study neuropsychiatric diseases at multiple sites with different equipment," said Dr. Elaine Collier, assistant director of the National Center for Research Resources Division of Clinical Research. "Function BIRN's utilization of emerging technology for collaborative research and sharing of knowledge gained will accelerate scientific discoveries by allowing researchers to tackle complex questions and large-scale research projects that were not previously possible."


About the Biomedical Informatics Research Network: The Biomedical Informatics Research Network is a major National Center for Research Resources initiative involving a consortium of 28 universities and 37 research groups. It is leveraging and sharing data, tools, techniques, software applications and expertise that extend beyond the boundaries of individual laboratories. The tools developed and data gathered are publicly available on the Web: www.nbirn.net.

The BIRN project has four parts. The BIRN-Coordinating Center is based at UC San Diego, with Mark Ellisman as principal investigator, and it provides the cyberinfrastructure connecting the more than 200 scientists involved in the project. In addition, there are three disease testbeds: Morphometry BIRN is based at Harvard University, with Dr. Bruce Rosen as principal investigator, and is studying structural changes that predict dementia; Mouse BIRN is based at UCLA, with Arthur Toga as principal investigator, and is studying the molecular and anatomical details of the mouse brain and how mouse models reflect human disease; and FBIRN is based on UCI, with Potkin as principal investigator, and is studying brain function in schizophrenia and other diseases.

The FBIRN project taps an exceptional array of scientific talent across the country. The FBIRN working groups and leaders:

  • Calibration: Gary Glover, Stanford University.
  • Neuroinformatics: David Keator, UCI, and Stephen Wong, Harvard.
  • Cognitive: Gregory McCarthy, Duke University.
  • Statistics: Gregory Brown, UC San Diego, and Hal Stern, UCI.
  • Project manager: Jessica Turner, UCI.

The FBIRN network includes Harvard, Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston, Duke, the University of North Carolina, University of Iowa, Yale University, University of Minnesota, University of New Mexico, and four UC campuses (Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco).

FBIRN is hosting its annual meeting March 13-14 in Irvine at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. About the National Center for Research Resources: The National Center for Research Resources provides laboratory scientists and clinical researchers with environments and tools that they can use to prevent, detect and treat a wide range of diseases. This support enables discoveries that begin at the molecular and cellular level, move to animal-based studies, and then are translated to patient-oriented clinical research, resulting in cures and treatments for both common and rare diseases. NCRR connects researchers with one another as well as patients and communities across the nation to bring the power of shared resources and research to improve human health. For more information, visit www.ncrr.nih.gov.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.3 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

Television: UCI has a broadcast studio available for live or taped interviews. For more information, visit http://today.uci.edu/broadcast.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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