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Release: Nov. 24, 1999

UI researchers get $7.1 million for analyzing lung disease

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A University of Iowa team of medical and engineering researchers has won a five-year, $7.1 million bioengineering research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research related to lung disease imaging and model-based analysis.

The award is one of the first grants that the NIH has given as part of its new Biomedical Engineering Partnership program. The funding will allow the UI researchers to purchase a state-of-the-art, multi-slice, high-speed x-ray computerized tomography (CT) scanner to use in studying the human lung.

"The focus of the project is to develop highly sensitive, dynamic, three-dimensional imaging methods for measuring the anatomy and physiology of the lung without the need for invasive procedures," explained principal investigator Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., UI professor of radiology and biomedical engineering.

Co-directors of the new scanning facility will be Geoffrey McLennan, M.D., UI associate professor of internal medicine; and Erik Ritman, M.D., Ph.D., who works in the Department of Physiology in the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn.

Although dramatic new methods are being developed to potentially treat both early- and late-stage lung disease, there are no methods to adequately test the success of these interventions. The UI investigators want to develop scanning protocols and computer-based analysis tools needed to evaluate the CT images.

The new equipment, as well as the image processing and data analysis that the UI research team will provide, will offer clearer images of the human lung than those previously available, explained co-investigator Joseph Reinhardt, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

"The new CT scanner can very quickly gather cross sectional images of the lungs, avoiding much of the blurring caused by movement of the heart and lungs," Reinhardt said. "To make better pictures, we need faster and faster equipment."

Hoffman explained that the work performed under this grant will allow the researchers to build a computer model (or atlas) of the normal lung, based on the high speed, high resolution CT scanning, which will include both anatomy and function. When a patient is scanned, the computer will compare the individual's lung against this model to help detect disease and to follow treatment.

Collaborator Milan Sonka, Ph.D., UI associate professor of electrical and computer engineering added, "Our approach to analyzing the large volumes of pulmonary CT data is based on incorporating anatomical as well physiological knowledge into highly automated algorithms for pulmonary airway and vascular tree determination and description. This information cannot be obtained in any other way than by designing new and highly sophisticated techniques for volumetric image analysis."

Other key UI collaborators on this project include Jeffrey Kern, M.D., professor of internal medicine; Kemp Kerstine, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor (clinical) of surgery; Timothy Timmerman, M.D., assistant professor (clinical) of pathology; Ge Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology; and Michael Vannier, M.D., professor and head of radiology.

The project, which in addition to bringing together investigators from the UI College of Medicine, the UI College of Engineering and the Mayo Medical School, will also involve collaboration with investigators at Marquette, Johns Hopkins and Purdue universities. Investigators from these other centers will travel to the UI to use the unique scanning facility provided through the grant.

"It is expected that this five-year collaboration will not only lead to new methods of scanning the lung but will also help define hardware modifications to be implemented by the scanner manufacturer Picker International," Hoffman said. "These modifications could then allow for further advances in state-of-the-art lung imaging to study normal and diseased lungs."

The UI has a reputation for its expertise in computer-based lung function measures. This latest project compliments another investigation for which Hoffman recently received a $1.1 million NIH grant. In that project, titled "Inflammatory parenchymal lung disease," Hoffman and McLennan, who works in the College of Medicine's pulmonary section, are proposing new CT methods to measure blood flow in the smallest vessels of the lung. The belief is that these measures will provide for the earliest signs of the onset of lung pathology leading to emphysema and other inflammatory-based lung diseases.

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