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University of Delaware to receive the state's first functional MRI instrument

University of Delaware

First State scientists who are looking to understand the brain, human or animal, will soon be in proximity to a tool that could enhance their research.

Delaware’s first functional magnetic resonance imaging instrument, or fMRI, is set to arrive at University of Delaware at the beginning of 2016. A normal magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, instrument can help a researcher or a doctor examine the structure of a body part. But in neuroscience, a more sophisticated device is needed to understand how the brain functions, especially while a person or an animal is performing a task. A fMRI machine is able to track blood flow in the brain, allowing researchers to see what areas of the brain are activated when the subject is sleeping, thinking about a loved one, solving a Rubiks Cube--the possibilities are numerous.


Melissa Harrington, director of the Delaware Center for Neuroscience research and a professor at Delaware State University, is excited about its arrival.


"It’ll put Delaware on the map, in terms of neuroscience and behavioral research," said Harrington.

An fMRI machine would enhance the cutting edge neuroscience research that’s already underway in Delaware. One UD researcher who’s eager to use the device is Mary Dozier, a professor of psychology whose research focuses on attachments between parents and children.


"We haven’t used any imaging tools. The fMri -- that’s really the gold standard," said Dozier.

Gaining access to the fMRI would certainly help visualize what’s happening in children’s brains. She’s looking to use it to study what’s happening when a child is trying to resist misbehaving, which, for example could be when a child is supposed to be working on homework and stops him or herself from jumping up and down at the window to see others playing outside. In monitoring "inhibitory behaviors," as she labels it, she's curious about activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with self-control.

Another researcher, Mike Gawryziak at Delaware State University, wants to know what’s happening in the brains of recovering drug addicts who are using meditation and mindfulness practices. But right now, he has to go all the way to University of Pennsylvania to use their fMRI instrument to find out.


Harrington hopes the fMRI will help attract more scientific talent to the state.  


“To have that capacity in our state is going to be a big draw for us to recruit more neuroscientists and help the faculty we have that are already doing that kind of research to be more productive," said Harrington.

The fMRI is will be installed at University of Delaware’s new Life Sciences research facility. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2016.


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