The center is not only home to the
most powerful Siemens 7T MRI scanner,
but it also houses the world’s largest
brain data repository in the world,
which currently stores nearly 3 petabytes of data but can hold up to seven if
necessary. It also has its own onsite high
performance computing (HPC) cluster
with 38 terabytes of memory—
something that is essential to the everyday
work of internal researchers, as well
as for the extensive collaboration that
takes place outside the university.
When you have the largest brain data
repository in the world and are obsessively studying the human brain, you’re
bound to cross paths with Alzheimer’s
disease, which explains why the Stevens
Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute
has about a dozen research programs
dedicated to the debilitating disease.
Some researchers at the institute
are using imaging to try to understand
whether exercise can influence the course
of Alzheimer’s, while others are looking
at dysregulation and the blood-brain
barrier that’s associated with disease.
There’s a large program examining how
high-field imaging at 7T can improve scientists’ ability to look at the pathophys-iology that can be seen using magnetic
resonance, and another that studies the
relationship between the accumulation of
beta amyloid and tau, relative to imagery collected using magnetic resonance.
Research efforts have also looked at
gender differences in the disease, genetic
risk factors and morphological characteristics, among others.
Having access to a very large repository and massive amounts of data allows
the institute’s scientists to leverage statistical power to understand the similarities
and differences of healthy and diseased
“It permits us to ask very detailed
questions that if you didn’t have a large
enough sample, you wouldn’t know
whether [something] was normal variability or whether cohorts were different because their genetic profile made
them different or because they all had
a particular type of disease, or whether
some other variable distinguished them.
Having vast numbers gives us enormous
power for investigation,” Toga said.
Part of housing all of this data is
knowing how to utilize it. For that, the
institute has the Data Immersive Visual-
ization Environment (DIVE) presentation
theater, which allows researchers to proj-
ect massive data sets and highly mag-
nified images on a 12 x 15 feet screen
with 1.5 mm pixel display in ultrahigh
definition 4K resolution.
“The idea of this [room] was to use
the power of these computers to create
models that allow us to literally fly into
these spaces and examine the compli-
cated spatial relationships between the
different measurements, i.e. what’s hap-
pening in this part of the brain versus
how that part of the brain is organized,”
Toga explained. “The theater really
allows you to feel like you’re part of the
data so that you can ask questions of
it while you’re deeply being presented
from all sides.”
While the neuroimaging and informatics institute is obviously on the cut-ting-edge of research, it’s also moving in
the right direction when it comes to the
clinic—that is to say, it’s moving into the
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