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University of Iowa News

Dec. 7, 2005

$10 Million NIH Grant Renewal Funds UI Lung Imaging Research

Is one person's airway more susceptible than another's to pollutants? For someone with asthma, could you customize an inhaler if you knew more about the patient's particular airway? How can you use advanced technologies to objectively evaluate the lung in multi-center trials of new interventions for lung problems but expose people to less radiation in doing so?

These questions may eventually be answered thanks to a five-year, $10 million grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the Iowa Comprehensive Lung Imaging Center and its multidisciplinary research team that includes investigators from the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, the UI College of Engineering and IIHR - Hydroscience & Engineering, as well as several institutions worldwide.

The grant's principal investigator is Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., UI professor of radiology and biomedical engineering. In 1999, Hoffman and Geoffrey McLennan, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and biomedical engineering, received the initial five-year, $6.1 million NIH grant for which the current grant is a renewal. This initial grant helped to establish the Iowa Comprehensive Lung Imaging Center (I-CLIC), which has as its centerpiece a computed tomography (CT) scanning research facility that will remain state-of-the-art through a relationship with Siemens Medical Systems.

The center currently features a 64-slice high-speed computerized tomography scanner, also known as a multidetector-row computed tomography (MDCT) scanner, that takes detailed images of lung structure and function -- images that cannot be obtained without the combination of expertise and advanced technologies present within the I-CLIC. With the MDCT, researchers learn more about ventilation and perfusion (blood flow from the lungs to the body's tissues). The center also has advanced data analysis capabilities and the 64-slice scanner is soon to be upgraded to a recently announced new MDCT scanner, which scans twice as fast at half the x-ray dose through the addition of a second x-ray source on the system.

For many diseases, particularly lung cancer and possibly emphysema, early detection is felt to offer the best chance for increased effectiveness of treatment.

"With the first NIH grant, we developed the 'gold standard' for comprehensively assessing the lung, and now we want to use this standard to build a large database of a range of lung conditions," Hoffman said. "With that knowledge, we can advance early detection of abnormalities."

One facet of the research effort involves modeling air and particle flow in the lungs to better understand how conditions such as asthma affect people's airways. That project involves Ching-Long Lin, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and associate faculty research engineer at IIHR - Hydroscience & Engineering.

The grant renewal also will allow UI experts to work with Merryn Tawhai, research scientist in the Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, on a project she is leading, which links to the international Physiome project, serving to establish a basis on which to model normal physiologic processes. The lung atlas, which is being built through the research efforts of the recently awarded NIH grant to the I-CLIC, will become part of the Human Physiome. (

"We have many exciting areas to pursue," Hoffman said. "Knowing more about the variability in air flow and particle deposits in a given lung will allow us to start looking at what anatomical differences between lungs make some more susceptible to disease. We may learn that a person with asthma is more susceptible to an allergy or that their airway tree is physically such that allergen depositions accumulate more in a particular area."

However, as with other medical technological advances, people have raised concern about radiation doses used during a CT scan.

"Whether it's a real or perceived risk, we need to figure out how to apply the techniques we've developed with lower-dose methods," Hoffman said.

One approach involves reducing both the power and length of x-ray exposure. Another approach focuses on getting more information from fewer scans per patient. As part of the grant, Willi Kalender, Ph.D., inventor of the spiral CT and a researcher at the University of Erlangan in Germany, will participate along with Ge Wang, Ph.D., UI professor of radiology, to advance the mathematical methods for image reconstruction, taking advantage of continuing advances in CT hardware.

"This part of the collaboration will help us develop new methods that keep images of equal quality while reducing the radiation exposure," Hoffman said.

In addition, Edwin van Beek, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiology, who has thus far been working within the CT laboratory, will help determine when MRI can be used as a supplement or replacement for CT scanning. For this part of the project, new methods involving hyperpolarized helium will be applied to provide the needed signal in the lung for MR imaging, while xenon gas inhalation will be introduced for CT imaging in human volunteers.

Other UI College of Engineering experts involved in the grant include Milan Sonka, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering; Joseph Reinhardt, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering; and Gary E Christensen, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

In addition to the researchers and institutions mentioned, the collaboration involves experts from Johns Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic, University of Washington at Seattle and Marquette University.

The lung imaging research based at the UI also has led to a spin-off company at the UI Technology Innovation Center. Known as VIDA Diagnostics, the company is creating commercial products based on the research conducted at the UI. VIDA Diagnostics has received additional funding from the NIH by winning a Small Business Innovation Research grant.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917,; Writer: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660