In 2004, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation opened the state’s first small-animal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility. With an investment of $3.75 million to build the facility, recruit a director and purchase a 10,000-pound magnet, OMRF knew it was taking a chance.
Four years later, that risk has paid off: Researchers from institutions across the state—and beyond—are using the facility an average of 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. To meet demand, OMRF has purchased a second, more powerful MRI to add to the facility.
Although the MRI is commonplace in human medicine, there are no more than 12 small-animal MRI facilities in the country with a magnet as strong as OMRF’s. And the new magnet, which has been installed and is now undergoing final testing and calibration, is even more powerful.
“This new magnet is about six times as strong as the ones found in hospitals,” said Yasvir Tesiram, Ph.D., whose research hinges on the medical applications of ultra high magnetic fields. Using super-cooled liquid helium that circulates continuously through its coils, the magnet generates a magnetic field that is 200,000 times stronger than the Earth’s.
“This allows scientists to study the cells and organs of genetically engineered living mice and rats at microscopic levels,” said Tesiram. “And, it does not harm the animals.”
The new machine, which had a price tag of slightly more than $1 million, brings new capabilities, including microimaging and high-resolution spectroscopy. More importantly, it will give OMRF another MRI to fulfill the needs of state, national and international scientists, Tesiram said.
“We have people who want to use the facility the whole working day and then some,” he said. “The only hours that are free are when everybody is sleeping.”
In the four years OMRF’s facility has been open, scientists have used the MRI to run studies on more than 3,000 subjects. Projects have included:
- studying models of neuroblastoma, a brain cancer that primarily strikes children;
- Examining hypertension and its involvement in type I and type II diabetes; and
- developing new ways to diagnose and clinically intervene against liver and brain cancers.
OMRF researcher Jordan Tang, Ph.D., has already scheduled time with the new MRI to test drug compounds that prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain. And Mike Centola, Ph.D., will use the machine to develop new ways to identify and monitor rheumatoid arthritis.
Use of the MRI facility is not limited to OMRF, though. Scientists from the University of Oklahoma, OU Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma State University, University of Central Oklahoma and Langston University have also collaborated on projects at the MRI facility. Researchers from Utah, California and the University of Osaka in Japan have also used OMRF’s MRI for their research.
“Our scientists are discovering things that wouldn’t have been remotely possible without this high-resolution equipment,” said Rheal Towner, Ph.D., OMRF’s Advanced Magnetic Resonance Center director. “This new machine will further speed the process of developing tests to diagnose deadly diseases at earlier, more treatable stages. It will also accelerate our ability to create drugs to treat those diseases.”
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Chartered in 1946, its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.