Expanded Barrow-ASU imaging center offers unique opportunities for Arizona biomedical researchers

January 29, 2018

By Matt Ellsworth

Gregory Turner

By Brian Powell
Flinn Foundation

The Barrow-ASU Center for Preclinical Imaging recently completed a $1.25 million expansion to provide Arizona biomedical researchers the only facility in the state where MRI, CT, and PET scans are available in one location for the preclinical study of diseases and potential treatments.

The fee-based center on Dignity Health’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center campus near downtown Phoenix welcomes researchers from universities, hospitals, private research institutions, companies, and government agencies to further their research of cancer, brain and central-nervous-system disorders, cardiac disease and other subjects.

The center, which opened in 2009, was specifically designed to provide state-of-the-art imaging services and expertise for researchers from institutions beyond just Barrow and Arizona State University, says Gregory Turner, the preclinical imaging program manager in the Keller Center for Imaging Innovation at Barrow Neurological Institute, which includes overseeing the operation of the Center for Preclinical Imaging.

“One thing that … makes it better for the people who want to come to our center is they will not be intruding on someone’s else’s lab,” Turner says. “Our mission is to provide core imaging services for area researchers. They can bring their studies here and we can acquire the imaging data for them.”

Advanced-technology tools like those of the Barrow-ASU Center are prerequisites for many scientific studies, and developing such infrastructure from scratch can be prohibitively expensive, precluding whole lines of research for some laboratory teams and institutions. Core research facilities open to many organizations’ investigators are highly coveted assets for a region like Arizona aiming to strengthen its bioscience sector.

The MRI, along with the additions of the microCT and microPET, can accommodate subjects ranging in size from fifteen centimeters down to less than a centimeter. The subject stays in the same position on one custom-made board that can move seamlessly between the three devices, which are all steps away from one another.

The 7-Tesla MRI’s field strength is double the highest field strength of MRIs that are used in the clinic, and the tool can be used for research on blood flow, metabolism, brain and cardiac function, tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, orthopedics and more.

“Anything done in a clinical system can be done in this system,” says Turner, who in his role interacts with academic and clinical biomedical researchers from many institutions, helps to design studies, and develops grant proposals.

The microCT and microPET instruments provide additional opportunities to study in vivo, allowing for the examination of a number of pathologies, including cancer and cardiac disease.

In addition to these technologies, the center advertises itself as offering a comprehensive suite of features to meet researchers’ needs: bioluminescence and florescence, two procedure rooms, a holding room, temporary housing for preclinical subjects, and a work station that allows for remote access to study data as well as the ability to transfer data to an off-site location.

Advancing Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap

When the imaging center opened nearly a decade ago, with major initial funding from the National Institutes of Health and support from both Barrow and ASU, it was hailed as following the recommendations of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, which was originally commissioned by the Flinn Foundation in 2002.

And nearly a decade later, through the center’s mission and role in advancing precision medicine, Barrow and ASU are helping Arizona reach its goals outlined in the Roadmap—the state’s long-term strategic plan through 2025 to make Arizona globally competitive and a national leader in select areas of the biosciences.

One of the five overarching goals is to “increase the ability of research-performing institutions to turn bench research results into improved disease/illness prevention, detection, and treatment, plus bio-agriculture and industrial biotechnology products.”

Another of the goals from the 2014 update of the Roadmap is to “pioneer a new level of commitment to partnerships to sustain and enhance the state’s ‘collaborative gene’ reputation.”

  • For more information about utilizing the Barrow-ASU Center for Preclinical Imaging, contact Turner at Gregory.Turner@DignityHealth.org or (602) 406-2649.
  • Apply for use of the center’s resources.
  • Learn more about the biosciences and the Roadmap.

Information courtesy of Barrow-ASU Center for Preclinical Imaging:

The 7 Tesla (7T) MRI at the Center for Preclinical Imaging is equipped with a host of imaging capabilities to meet a variety of scanning needs, including high-resolution anatomy, functional MRI, perfusion, diffusion, angiography, and cardiac function.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging is a nuclear medicine method used to observe metabolic processes in vivo. PET uses radioactive tracers that reflect cellular and metabolic processes in the body such as glucose uptake. This imaging method is used to examine a variety of pathologies including cancer, cardiac disease, inflammation, and neurodegenerative disease.

Computed Tomography (CT) uses a series of X-ray images to generate renderings of cross sections of the body. It provides high-resolution images of both soft tissue and bone.  It is widely used to evaluate muscle and bone disorders and study pathologies including cardiac disease, tumors, and trauma.

Dr. Turner’s research interests include developing and implementing imaging methods for studying a variety of disease models, including Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, cancer, and spinal cord injury. He also has an interest and background in functional MRI and cardiac imaging.