Tell us about yourself and how you are involved with the Cleveland Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (CADRC).
I am an experimental particle physicist by training who trained in magnetic resonance imaging—MRI during a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. I’m Professor of Radiology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and the Director of High Field MRI at Cleveland Clinic. My lab specializes in brain function and structure using MRI and developing methodologies for investigating neurologic and neuropsychiatric diseases. I am the NeuroImaging Core Leader of the CADRC. Dr. Frank DiFilippo, a PET-imaging physicist is the co-Leader of the core, and together we make most of the operational decisions with an excellent team of radiologists and physicists from CWRU and CCF. The Core’s objective is to provide high-level imaging expertise as cutting edge data to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) researchers, both regionally and nationally.
What are your main activities and goals as they relate to brain health?
My main focus is to develop imaging based biomarkers for the diagnosis and development of therapies for aging brain related diseases and AD. This is a huge need in the AD field, just because the therapies that are available are limited and not as effective as we would like. Part of the problem is the lack of a set of agreed upon biomarkers for disease progression in AD. So, my research efforts focus on developing MRI-based measures that can detect cognitive decline in the aging brain, hopefully before they become serious enough to impact quality of life.
What is the focus of your research currently, and where do you see your work going in the next two-five years?
My research efforts revolve around the activities of the Neuroimaging Core of the CADRC. The data we are acquiring on CADRC participants are centered on methods that have been pioneered by the key personnel of the Core, so we have a keen insight as to the utility of these measures. We developed a new focus on blood flow related issues because this seems to be implicated in AD, in blood flow, and blood brain barrier issues. It seems to be an important part of AD progression.
Functional MRI (FMRI) is an imaging technique that can detect regions of the brain that are involved in certain task performance. We would like to expand and do more FMRI for a high detailed look at brain interactions and networks with focus on structural and functional brain connectivity as networks of functional units. We examine the connecting pathways and look at how they interact as the brain functions both normally and abnormally. The drawback to FMRI is some safety issues because of how strong their magnetic fields, especially in older people who may have implants in their body. But we are gradually getting more experience with this and clearing more implants as safe for FMRI.
How do you see research in brain health/Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia evolving in the next 2-5 years?
You are going to see that pathology studies are going to be driven by imaging, which has not happened to date. One thing that we are working on as part of the CADRC is that we are going to do FMRIs of the brain donations we receive. They are better than anything we’ve had before. This can help us understand more about the mechanism of AD. There will be big strides in imaging as a tool for tracking AD prediction and disease progression.
Do you have any suggestion or recommendations for students or young researchers who wish to get more involved in brain health research?
The ADRCs are good resources for young researchers, and part of the mission of these centers is to be a platform for students to get training grants and mentorship. They can facilitate dedicated time for research. My recommendation is to contact your nearest ADRC. All ADRC’s are national resources, including the CADRC.