$7.1 Million NIH Grant to Biomedical Engineering will Improve Surgery for Epilepsy Patients and Boost Yale's Investment in the Sciences

A team of Yale engineers, scientists, physicians and their colleagues have received a $7.1 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) to perform advanced bioimaging research that will provide neurosurgeons with a wealth of new information that could dramatically change the treatment of patients suffering from severe epilepsy.

The NIBIB is the newest institute at the National Institutes of Health, (NIH) and was created by Congress at the end of 2000. “This grant is the first Bioengineering Research Partnership (BRP) fully funded by the new institute, giving it a rather unique status,” said Richard Swaja, director of bioimaging at NIBIB.

The grant, titled “Bioimaging and Intervention in Neocortical Epilepsy,” is aimed at characterizing the biochemical signature of brain tissue that causes severe epileptic seizures and understanding its relationship to surrounding normal tissue.

“It involves the use of high field Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to image the brain as well as mathematical modeling strategies to analyze the properties and position of the brain prior to, and during, the surgical procedure,” said the project’s principal investigator James S. Duncan, professor of diagnostic radiology and electrical engineering at Yale.

Dennis Spencer, M.D., professor and chair of neurosurgery and key co-investigator of the grant, says that the approaches being developed on this project could significantly enhance understanding of neocortical epilepsy and provide revolutionary new treatment paradigms by shortening the time necessary to perform these extensive surgeries (typically two four-to-eight hour procedures). Surgeons will be provided with an integrated, detailed map of the structure and function of the brain that will help them both plan and perform the procedure more precisely and efficiently.

“This award represents the largest research grant to date to Yale in the area of Biomedical Engineering,” said Duncan, who directs Yale’s Interdepartmental Program in Biomedical Engineering within the Faculty of Engineering, as well as the Section of Bioimaging Sciences within the Department of Diagnostic Radiology in the School of Medicine. “It also is representative of the ongoing efforts on campus to strengthen this academic area, and along with the recent recruitment of Professor Mark Saltzman from Cornell, is indicative of Yale’s increasing presence in Biomedical Engineering.”

In addition to Duncan and Spencer, lead members of the Yale team include Douglas Rothman, associate professor of diagnostic radiology, Todd Constable, associate professor of diagnostic radiology and neurosurgery, and Lawrence Staib, associate professor of diagnostic radiology and electrical engineering. Primary members of the teams from outside of Yale include Hoby Hetherington and Julie Pan, M.D., from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Thomas Vaughan from the University of Minnesota and Rainer Birkenbach from BrainLAB, Inc, an image-guided surgery company based in Munich, Germany.

Other key Yale investigators on the project include: Susan Spencer, M.D., professor of neurology, Hemant Tagare, associate professor of diagnostic radiology and electrical engineering, Steven Zucker, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, Xenios Papademetris, postdoctoral fellow in diagnostic radiology, Robin de Graaf, assistant professor of diagnostic radiology, and Ognen Petroff, associate professor of neurology.

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326