Brain Scanner Expands University’s Research Capabilities

By Lori Jennings 

Mason’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study purchased a $1.8 million state-of-the-art brain-scanning machine, significantly upgrading the university’s research capabilities by providing high-quality imaging. With this purchase, Mason becomes one of two, alongside Princeton, nonmedical schools with a cognitive neuroscience research institute to own functional imaging technology.

Mason acquired the technology partly in response to Gov. Mark Warner’s Education for a Lifetime initiative for Virginia’s higher education system. Part of the initiative involves promoting a research-oriented environment and strengthening the commonwealth’s academic research programs.

The technology, a Siemens Magnetom Allegra 3 Tesla scanner, uses a noninvasive process called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allows scientists to visually identify structural and functional characteristics of the human brain. Mason research faculty will now be able to see and measure how the brain functions when it is performing a variety of tasks, such as answering a question or making a decision, providing valuable information for understanding the causes of and finding new treatments and interventions for many neurological diseases, including stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“The new brain scanner will provide our faculty and students with the necessary tools to conduct next-generation research,” says Krasnow director James Olds. “We will be poised to attract cognitive neuroscience researchers and students for whom this technology is critical to their work—and where they can work in an ‘in-house’ environment and truly take ownership of their research.”

One study that will use the new brain scanner examines developmental learning and behavior. This research will investigate the relationship between talent and disability, as well as reasoning and attention. The work will encompass the study of the brain in development—how children with attention deficits process reasoning—to the human brain in regression—particularly how Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

The new brain scanner will be shared with other academic departments, including Mason’s Law and Neuroeconomics Center. The scanner will be used to study how the brain interacts with its external environment to produce economic behavior, allowing researchers to better understand economic decision making and, consequently, predict economic behavior. In addition, the brain scanner will be used by faculty members in the School of Computational Sciences and the Psychology Department. The brain scanner will also be available for use by other investigators both within and outside the university conducting research using MRI technology.