NSF grant will support high resolution MRI research

I continued to work on this, it’s been on and off, but I have passion for this topic so I keep tracking what’s going on in this area.”

Dr. Jaerock Kwon, Kettering University assistant professor of Computer Engineering, is going back to his research roots as he’s obtained a $341,563 National Science Foundation research grant for a program entitled, "MRI: Development of High-Throughput and High-Resolution Three-Dimensional Tissue Scanner with Internet-Connected 3D Virtual Microscope for Large-Scale Automated Histology."

The program focuses on the development of a three-dimensional brain tissue scanner, which expands on Kwon’s dissertation topic at Texas A&M University. During his graduate studies, Kwon worked the prototype of the scanner, focusing on automating the scanning process and improving the software and hardware of the device.

“This was part of my PhD dissertation topic,” Kwon said. “I continued to work on this, it’s been on and off, but I have passion for this topic so I keep tracking what’s going on in this area.”

This is the second MRI grant awarded to Kettering faculty this year. Kettering faculty Justin Young (principle investigator), Terri Lynch-Caris, Mehrdad Zadeh, Girma Tewolde and Giuseppe Turini co-sponsored a program entitled "MRI: Acquisition of a Motion Capture System to Facilitate Multidisciplinary Research Efforts and Enhance Undergraduate Research Training."

The grant that Kwon received will support the hardware and software components of the Knife-Edge Scanning Microscope which is a web-based, lightweight, 3D volume viewer that serves large volumes (typically the whole brain) of high-resolution mouse brain images. The advantage of this methodology is its ability to scan the entire brain with a high throughput (speed of data acquisition) and high resolution.

“The other technologies can’t scan the whole mouse brain,” Kwon said. “But with our technology we can scan the whole mouse brain in a month and we can use the data to analyze the differences between two different brains.”

The scanner is unique in that it requires physical sections of a brain. Kwon will be conducting scans on mouse brains with the ultimate goal of applying the technology to humans. 

“We can use this technology in brain development research,” Kwon said. “Let's assume that we have two mouse brains here. One is from a test case and the other one is from a control. Through the comparison of the brain from the test case and the one from the control, we can see if there are any differences in neural structure of the brains due to experiments in the test case.”

An example of a test case variable could be stress. The scanner will permit researchers to examine how stress may or may not physically alter brain structure in mice.

Kwon hopes to use this scanner to continue to bridge the knowledge gap between structure and function by studying and analyzing the high-resolution images produced during his research. Kwon is developing both the hardware and software aspect of this device and what makes his efforts unique is the prompt to share and compare multiple data sets internally but also externally with the science community.

“One problem of this type of research is that you are just scanning and you have one data set and it can’t be shared,” Kwon said. “It’s really hard to share because it’s huge data. We can make data more accessible to other research communities. Share and compare data - that’s why the NSF funded this grant, the data part. The device is going to be shared but we will share the whole package, including data.”

The NSF expects the scanner to be an asset not only for Kettering but also surrounding hospitals and research institutions. Kwon hopes the grant will inspire more researchers in the region to identify brain diseases and pursue potential solutions. The grant will also permit Kwon to hire three research assistants to contribute to the development of the scanner.

“This can be a good kick start for more research programs at Kettering,” Kwon said.