The University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Animal Imaging Shared Resource (AISR) has received $2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The new high-field 9.4 Tesla MRI will provide high-quality, high-resolution images used as an essential step toward new medicines and treatments for cancer.
Natalie Serkova, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator and professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, heads up the AISR. It is the only state-of-the-art small animal imaging service in the state of Colorado facilitating pre-clinical and translational cancer research. The service is complex and requires advanced technical personnel.
Serkova says small animal imaging helps cancer investigators evaluate the effects of investigational treatments non-invasively and in real-time. It also allows for designing of new imaging protocols and contrast dyes that can change the way we evaluate and treat cancer in humans.
“This non-invasive technology will allow us to bring our discoveries into the clinic and it is available in only about ten places in the U.S.,” says Serkova. “We can establish better MRI protocols or more effective contrast agents, detect a microscopic metastasis or a complex tumor microenvironment. Most importantly, MRI advances can be translated very quickly into patient care.”
The new, 9.4-Tesla machine will be custom made and should be delivered and installed by the end of 2017, replacing an old 4.7 Tesla scanner — which was acquired in 2004 as the very first animal imaging machine in Colorado.
“This is quite an undertaking,” says Serkova. “We are working with CU facilities and architects to determine the best way to install the machine. It weighs 11,000 pounds so we can’t just put it in the elevator. It will be a major event on this campus when it finally arrives.”
Serkova came to CU in 2003 to establish the AISR and received a similar NIH grant in 2004, which was used to purchase the current imaging equipment, which has since been used as an integral part of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies published in medical journals.
“This new machine will allow us to detect smaller lesions and introduce better imaging techniques for the brain and other organs,” says Serkova. “It will allow us to do even better cancer research. The machine also expands our ability to serve the entire institution in a way that wasn’t possible before – such as functional MRI and cardiac MRI in small animals.”
Because CU Cancer Center’s shared resources are also available for a fee to organizations outside the university, the new imaging capability will help solidify Colorado as a leader in private sector pharmaceutical and biotechnology research.
The total cost of the new MRI scanner is $3 million. Serkova emphasizes that institutional support in the form of matching funds and infrastructure from CU Cancer Center, the Academic Enrichment Fund of Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research was critical in securing the award.