Med Ed Reform
HST Forum: Decoding Health and Disease
The student posters and keynote speaker at the March 8 Forum of the Harvard–MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) showed just what happens when you place MIT doctoral engineering students in hospitals to experience patient care first-hand and teach Harvard medical students about cutting-edge science and engineering.
Several steps away, MIT doctoral student Peng Yu (above, right) displayed how new mathematical and statistical tools can reveal new information about the surface tucks and folds of the human cortex. One series of images reveals what may be the first glimpse of normal brain development in babies from 33 weeks to two years old. The bigger folds form earlier and more slowly, while the smaller folds follow at a faster pace, initial results show. The same technique can correctly distinguish the brain of a teenager from that of a young adult with 83 percent accuracy. Yu and her colleagues are also cataloging the normal differences in healthy brains age 60 to 90 and have found thinning gray matter and different surface geometry in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, HMS medical student Leo Tsai has devised the first MRI scanner to probe the lung function of people in an upright position. Not surprisingly, many aspects are different from the usual supine MRI lung imaging. The study volunteers sound squeaky in the new upright scanners, but that may be the helium gas used for imaging, said MIT doctoral student Rachel Scheidegger, who presented the poster.
HST alumnus and faculty member Bruce Rosen (left), HMS professor of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, gave the keynote presentation. Rosen directs HST’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at the MGH Charlestown campus. The center’s airy atrium hosted the poster session, keynote presentation, and reception.
Rosen may be best known for helping to invent functional MRI, which changed the way scientists study the brain and the way physicians treat and diagnose patients, said HST director Martha Gray.
Rosen’s presentation was a whirlwind tour of the latest imaging tools and techniques by many of the 86 center faculty. Many advances are the result of combining information from different modalities, each of which provides a different angle on the underlying chemical functions and offers a different set of data for extracting.
“Sometimes just taking a better picture makes a world of difference,” Rosen said. “The clinical pull of the need to see will drive the technological push.”