The University of Texas at Austin and Central Texas Veterans Health Care System open new Imaging Research Center

Jan. 25, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System will mark the opening of a new imaging center today, Jan. 25.

Using one of the most powerful magnetic resonance imaging scanners (MRI) available, researchers from the two institutions will study brain functions in a variety of areas of concern to the public and veterans at the center.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), through its Counter Drug Technology Assessment Center, provided $4.65 million for the center. ONDCP is funding this and other brain research projects across the nation in an effort to effectively bring cutting edge science and technology to bear on the disease of addiction.

“The Imaging Research Center opens a new era of research for the university,” said Dr. Michael P. Domjan, director of the center and professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. “It will enable us to expand our established addiction studies and branch out into new areas of study.”

He said researchers from neuroscience, clinical psychology, cellular and molecular biology, pharmacy, kinesiology, biomedical engineering, communications and computer sciences are expected to use the center.

In the past half-dozen years, medical and health-related research has grown at The University of Texas at Austin. Over the past three years, the university has received about $150 million in health and medical research awards.

CTVHCS researchers are interested in studying problems that affect veterans such as combat stress-related disorders and substance abuse and aging-related disorders.

“The center offers us an extraordinary opportunity to increase our collaboration with The University of Texas at Austin, and enhance our ability to attract the best and the brightest scientists and clinicians,” said Bruce Gordon, director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System. “The end result is just that much better care we can provide our veterans.”

The center also will have an educational component, teaching researchers and students how to use the scanner in experiments and how to interpret results.

The MRI scanner is housed in a new 8,500-square-foot building next to the MCC building on university property at 3925 W. Braker Lane in North Austin.

The scanner’s strength is 3 Tesla, which means its magnetic force is 60,000 stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field and can take as many as 15 images per second of blood flow and function. It is the only 3 Tesla MRI scanner in the Austin area.

The scanner is one of a handful of 3 Tesla machines in Texas and one of the few in the country to be used only for basic research. Most others are used for clinical purposes in addition to research.

The scanner uses radio waves and magnetic fields to non-invasively make images of the brain. Test participants usually perform tasks or view videos or photographs and the scanner can track what parts of the brain are active. This enables researchers to see what parts of the brain respond to different stimuli are involved in learning, memory, motivation, and problem solving.

The opening of the Imaging Research Center is the culmination of a several-year effort to bring together the resources to meet the vision of officials and researchers. Dr. Robert Fossum, a senior research fellow at the university’s Institute for Advanced Technology, headed the program from its inception.

The opening ceremony will be at 2 p.m. at the MCC Building. It will include remarks by Domjan, Gordon and Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research at The University of Texas at Austin, and an open house at the center.

Dr. Richard J. Davidson, Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will deliver an inaugural lecture for the center at 4 p.m. He will speak on “Order and Disorder in the Emotional Brain.”

For more information contact: Tim Green, The University of Texas at Austin, 512-475-6596; Elizabeth Crossan, CTVHCS, 254-743-2376.