February 25, 2005

$27 million center to sharpen VUMC’s imaging capabilities

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The Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science will be in the old emergency department parking lot at Medical Center North.

$27 million center to sharpen VUMC’s imaging capabilities

Construction will begin next month on a four-floor, state-of-the-art facility in the old emergency room parking lot between the A and B wings of Medical Center North that will house the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS).

The $26.7 million project ($19.7 million for construction), which has been approved by the Medical Center Board and the University Board of Trust, is "a critically important project for the research enterprise," said Fred DeWeese, vice president of Planning and Development for Space and Facilities.

While the 40,000-square-foot facility won't be completed until the spring of 2006, Vanderbilt is going ahead with plans to purchase one of the world's most powerful research magnets. The $7 million, 7 tesla magnet will be installed, with 400 metric tons of steel shielding around it, on the ground floor of the new facility in mid-December.

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center is making this investment now to assure that it captures the best opportunity to attract top-notch scientists and government research grants,” said Jeffrey R. Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. "If you delay for six months, it really limits the opportunity in this fast-paced field of science.”

A tesla is a unit of magnetic field strength. One tesla is roughly 20,000 times the strength of the magnetic field of the earth. The 7 tesla magnet, one of only about seven or eight in the United States, will enable researchers to generate images down to the molecular level, and will ensure VUIIS remains at the forefront of research in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“One reason we're getting a 7 tesla magnet is to perform more advanced magnetic resonance spectroscopy,” explained institute director John Gore, Ph.D. “MR spectroscopy uses the same technology as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and functional MRI but it produces … biochemical information, from small volumes within the body.

“For example, in the brain you can measure the levels of certain neurotransmitters … You can get a very precise assay of each of these molecules,” he said. That's important not only for studying brain disorders such as addiction, but also for determining the effects of some drugs in the brain.

Another MRI technique that already is being tested at Vanderbilt is dynamic contrast imaging, which uses a contrast agent to generate images that provide information on angiogenesis, new blood vessel formation required for tumor growth. This method one day may provide a way of determining the effectiveness of potential new drugs that are used to treat cancer, Gore said.

After 20 years on the faculty at Yale University, Gore joined the Vanderbilt faculty in July 2002 as the founding director of a new trans-institutional institute, bringing a team of more than a dozen former Yale scientists with him.

The facility will integrate current activities in imaging research and will provide research space for 18 faculty members and more than 40 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in biomedical science, engineering and physics. Three existing research magnets and other imaging systems used in animal studies will be moved to the second floor. A new facility will also be provided for imaging non-human primates. In addition, a new 3 tesla human MRI scanner will be placed adjacent to the 7 tesla system.

The location — adjacent to the Medical Center North post office — will provide excellent access to the Department of Radiology, where many of the institute's faculty hold appointments.

The 9,000-square-foot construction site is enclosed on three sides, with access off Garland Avenue. The post office and adjoining labs and offices in the A and B wings will not have to move from their current locations, but post office shipments and deliveries will be diverted to the MRB III dock off 21st Avenue.

In addition, the Angel Transport newborn ambulances will be moved from the existing parking area to the South Garage off Pierce Avenue.

The contractor is Turner Construction Co., which built the vivarium on top of Medical Center North two years ago. Atlanta-based architect Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Inc., has designed the building, which will feature a glass front mirroring the design of the Eskind Biomedical Library and the MRB IV project currently in construction on the top of Langford Auditorium and Light Hall.

The concrete-frame building is designed to support additional floors in the future “should we need to expand for research in that area,” DeWeese said.