Advanced Translational Neuroimaging Research & Development Core

Despite the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) among military personnel, there are still no standard clinical neuroimaging methods that can detect it. Computed tomography (CT) and conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods are not specific enough to definitively identify TBIs and are not sensitive enough to detect subtle changes that may accompany a mild TBI. 

Having clinical MRI methods that could detect TBI-related changes would be a “game changer”, resulting in improved diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment evaluation. Our Advanced Translational Neuroimaging Research and Development Core aims to fill this critical need. 

The 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 among military personnel.

Using advanced neuroradiological-neuropathological (Rad-Path) correlation and integration approaches, from 2018 to 2023, Core members developed and tested numerous promising MRI methods to detect TBIs. One — which they invented, developed, and vetted — is multidimensional diffusion-relaxation correlation MRI, which successfully detected and visualized microscopic injury processes in pathological human brain specimen that were previously radiologically invisible (i.e., not detectable.) “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 patients. Overall, the Core is developing and vetting several 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 point-of-care MRI scanners for TBI imaging applications.
  • Developing and migrating a new MRI elastography (MRE) method to improve TBI diagnosis and assessment in vivo.
  • Advancing MRI-based whole-brain neuropathology as an adjunct to conventional neuropathological assessment.
  • Using 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 types of TBI also serves the needs of the general public, particularly pediatric and elderly individuals. 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.