Advanced Translational Neuroimaging Research & Development Core

More than 80% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) experienced by U.S. military personnel are mild. Unfortunately, standard neuroimaging methods such as CT or conventional MRI scans are not sensitive enough to detect the microscopic changes that occur in the brain after mild TBIs (mTBIs) or often not specific enough to definitively identify TBI. Having access to clinical MRI methods that could detect changes in the brain after a mTBI or other form of TBI would substantially improve diagnosis and treatment evaluation.

The Advanced Translational Neuroimaging Research and Development Core is a partnership between the Military Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative (MTBI2), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute on Aging. Its mission is to make TBI — a radiologically invisible wound — visible. The Core’s overarching goal is to improve imaging methods to identify and assess the various forms of TBI in military personnel.

Using advanced neuroradiological-neuropathological (Rad-Path) correlation and integration approaches, from 2018 to 2023 the Core developed and tested numerous promising MRI methods to detect TBI. One, which they invented, developed, and vetted is multidimensional diffusion-relaxation correlation MRI, which successfully detected and visualized microscopic injury processes in the pathological human brain specimen that were previously radiologically invisible.

“Our Core’s multidimensional diffusion-relaxation correlation MRI method is a significant breakthrough. It is first and only MRI method that can “see” microscopic protein aggregation caused by impact induced TBI and neuroinflammation due to blast induced TBI.”

Expanding on this success, the Core is now focused on developing and testing multi-dimensional MRI methods designed to detect TBI in living patients. Overall, the Core is developing and vetting novel non-invasive quantitative MRI biomarkers to detect unique features of TBI by:

  • Clinically translating and evaluating ex vivo MRI methods to detect sequelae of TBI through scanning healthy volunteers, TBI subjects, and if successful, TBI patients.
  • Exploring the use of low-field, portable MRI scanning for TBI imaging applications
  • Developing and migrating a new MRI elastography (MRE) method to improve TBI diagnosis and assessment in vivo
  • Advancing in vivo MRI-based neuropathology as an adjunct to conventional neuropathological assessment
  • Continuing to use knowledge gleaned from the Core’s previous “Rad-Path” correlation and integration studies to explore, test and develop promising new MRI stains and contrasts in attempt to follow sequelae of TBI

In addition to its potential benefits for the military population, the development of novel neuroradiological approaches to diagnose different TBIs also serves the needs of the general public. Furthermore, the Core’s research has the potential to generate new imaging biomarkers associated with other brain diseases and disorders that affect both service members and civilians alike.

To learn more about the Advanced Translational Neuroimaging Research and Development Core’s research priorities, please visit Dr. Peter Basser and Dr. Dan Benjamini’s labs.