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fMRI Machine Will Expand Research Capabilities

Januuary 9, 2014  By: Stephanie Reitz

The University of Connecticut is in the process of purchasing and installing an fMRI machine for research at its flagship campus, adding a major asset to the University’s expertise in cognitive science, speech and language, and numerous other fields.

Scientists at UConn and other research institutions worldwide use the non-invasive, radiation-free technology of fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to assess how the brain’s blood flow and oxygen change in particular areas in response to certain stimuli. It can help illustrate how language and speech are acquired, how pain and emotions are processed, and a myriad other brain functions.

While UConn’s research in brain science is already robust, officials say having the fMRI equipment based at Storrs will be a powerful additional asset for faculty as they build on their expertise in a wide variety of areas.

The fMRI, for which the Board of Trustees approved the budget in the fall, could be in place in the Phillips Communication Sciences Building and ready for researchers’ use by early 2015 if all remains on schedule.

The UConn Health Center has an MRI machine, but it is used for clinical work on patients and is not set up for functional brain studies in which participants respond to visual displays or speech while in the scanner. Researchers at UConn’s Storrs campus and regional locations generally must use some of their projects’ grant budgets to rent time on fMRI equipment at Yale, Brown, the Institute of Living in Hartford, and other institutions.
UConn researchers from several disciplines use fMRI technology and cognitive neuroscience in their work, including in psychology, linguistics, philosophy, communication disorders, and other fields.

Having an fMRI machine at Storrs will enable them to direct more of their grant funding directly to their projects, and boost the University’s ability to recruit other talented faculty members and graduate students.

It’s also expected to help faculty members develop valuable collaborations in a variety of fields, and could bring in external funding if appointments to use the fMRI can be rented out when it’s not in use by UConn researchers.

“Brain science has been developing at a rapid pace internationally, including much success here at UConn,” President Susan Herbst says, noting that President Obama has focused the nation even more intently on the topic through BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), a major federal research funding initiative.

“Our scientists do terrific work, but must often travel to other institutions to use fMRI technology, equipment that is absolutely essential to their fields,” Herbst says. “We need our own research-dedicated magnet in Storrs if we are to retain and recruit top scientists.

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