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Back to January 2003 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the January 2003 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 15/No. 1, pp. 1, 8-9.]

NIBIB at NIH Promotes Collaboration in Research

By Donna J. Dean


The establishment of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) clearly is having a positive impact on the other institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health. As it enters its third year, the NIBIB's unique status as an institute dedicated to emerging biomedical technologies is leading to innovative and collaborative science that crosscuts all biological processes, organ systems, and diseases.

The NIBIB supports and conducts interdisciplinary research and training in biomedical imaging and bioengineering, and supports the development and translation of technologies that enable fundamental discovery and facilitate early disease detection and management. An outstanding extramural research program has been established, and in fiscal year 2002 the Institute supported 289 extramural research grants in the amount of $100,003,000.

As the Institute continues to expand and prosper, areas of considerable interest include biomaterials, nanoscience, platform development, surgery, bioinformatics, multimodality imaging, imaging devices and agents, computer modeling, image-guided therapies and interventions, imaging reconstruction, and the physics and mathematics of biomedical imaging. Areas of interest in the technology arena include sensors, nanotechnology, microtechnology, micro and macro materials, computer applications, and biomedical imaging.

An important component of the NIBIB's mission is to promote collaborations that integrate multiple scientific disciplines. These collaborations cut across NIH institutes and centers, other Federal agencies, and academia and industry. Key to the collaborative efforts of the Institute are several trans-NIH and inter-agency organizations administered by NIBIB: the Bioengineering Consortium (BECON), the NIH Inter-Institute Imaging Group, and the NIH Biomedical Implant Science (BMIS) Coordinating Committee.

The development of a new generation of research scientists is also critical to the successful future of trans-disciplinary research. Therefore, the NIBIB has taken a lead role in the development of methods for training researchers who are technically competent in the field, independent thinkers, successful communicators, team players, and visionaries in transcending disciplinary boundaries.

Current Research

Significant results from a wide array of research projects in NIBIB's extramural grant portfolio have already been demonstrated.

A new, high-frequency ultrasound scanning system has been developed by Dr. Katherine Ferrara, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Davis. This new scanning system will provide an unprecedented opportunity to image blood flow in the anterior segment of the eye, and holds promise for other opaque tissues. The ability to monitor the physiology of the eye will help combat major causes of blindness and will be paramount to fully understanding the mechanisms of all eye diseases and disorders.

Professor Enrico Gratton, a NIBIB-supported researcher from the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana, has developed a new, non-invasive sensor technology that significantly increases a clinician's ability to resolve high-resolution images of brain function. This technology holds the potential to provide a wealth of new knowledge about the progression, detection, and treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Another significant project supported by NIBIB is that of a digital bone (hand and wrist) atlas that will allow physicians to more accurately assess skeletal development in adolescents across various ethnicities. This resource, developed by Professor H.K. Huang of the Department of Radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, will enhance the diagnosis and management of a variety of metabolic and growth disorders and can also be used in planning for pediatric orthopedic procedures. This project also addresses health disparities among pediatric populations, an area of significant concern for the NIH.

Innovative, new bioengineering and computational imaging strategies that allow researchers to directly map changes in the brain corresponding to specific aspects of brain function have been developed by Professor James Duncan of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at Yale University. Initial research has already focused on surgical procedures used to alleviate brain seizures in patients with epilepsy.

The inability to accurately predict the onset of labor and to differentiate between true and false labor has led to the development of a new device called SQUID, a superconducting quantum interference device array. Dr. Curtis Lowery, associate professor and director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, examined the feasibility of measuring and recording both spatial and temporal electrical activity of the uterus. Using this tool, along with data from three-dimensional ultrasound, Dr. Lowery was able to determine regions of localized activation, propagation velocity, and the direction and spread of uterine activity as a function of distance. Adoption of this innovative technique will allow physicians to more accurately assess labor progression, avoiding unnecessary hospital stays and medical treatment.

Future Concepts

For fiscal year 2003, the Institute has identified several focus areas for further program development such as operation of sensors in vivo, systems and methods for small animal imaging, telemedicine, imaging informatics, image-guided interventions, optical imaging, biomaterials/tissue engineering, cellular/molecular imaging, and career development and training. Two Requests for Applications (RFAs) issued recently that may be of interest are "Improvements in Imaging Methods and Technologies," which will support multidisciplinary investigations to improve and extend technologies for biomedical imaging, and "Telehealth Technologies Development," which will support research aimed at the design and development of technologies and instruments that can be applied to a broad range of disorders or diseases.

Several other RFAs have also been released by the NIBIB and include "Systems and Methods for Small Animal Imaging," "Research and Development of Systems and Methods for Cellular and Molecular Imaging," "Operation of Sensors In Vivo," and "Image-Guided Interventions." Additional information on all of these RFAs is available at the NIBIB website at,


Several collaborative organizations at NIH are administered by the NIBIB. The Bioengineering Consortium (BECON) is an NIH-wide consortium started in 1997 to promote and coordinate bioengineering research across the NIH and other Federal agencies. Members of the Consortium include representatives from the NIH institutes and centers, as well as other government agencies. In June 2002, BECON held a symposium on "Sensors for Biological Research and Medicine." The symposium provided a forum to showcase current advancements, provide advice, and identify future needs in biomedical sensor technology and applications. Planning for the BECON 2003 symposium is well underway. The symposium, scheduled for June 23-24, 2003, will focus on "Catalyzing Team Science."

The NIH Inter-Institute Imaging Group was started two years ago to foster communication and cooperation in imaging-related issues across the NIH and other Federal agencies. The members meet regularly to share data on new developments in the field, upcoming workshops and meetings, and to ensure coordination of research efforts. In September 2002, the group held the "Third Inter-Institute Workshop on Diagnostic Optical Imaging and Spectroscopy: The Clinical Adventure." Topics discussed included probes and devices in molecular imaging, optical coherence tomography, breast imaging and spectroscopy, brain imaging and spectroscopy, and epithelial imaging and spectroscopy.

Also started two years ago, the NIH Biomaterials and Medical Implant Science (BMIS) Coordinating Committee ensures that communication and activities on issues related to implant materials and science are coordinated across NIH and other agencies of the Federal government. BMIS held an important workshop in September 2002 entitled "Medical Implant Information, Performance, and Policies Workshop." The goals of the workshop were to define the government's role in encouraging the use of explanted medical devices for research; to design a support structure for Federal programs to gather and disseminate information from medical implant retrieval; and to design a Federal program that encourages improved health care through research in implant retrieval.


A key component of attracting young and talented researchers into the Institute's research and development activities is providing new training programs in the biomedical imaging and bioengineering fields, and helping researchers maintain high-level technical and clinical skills. The Institute has worked diligently over the past year to develop areas of opportunity in the training arena, and is particularly dedicated to ensuring a broader representation of women and minorities in the training and research pipelines.

A survey conducted in January 2002 identified weaknesses in the biomedical imaging, bioengineering, and NIH training programs. In response, the NIBIB conducted a "Workshop on Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Training" in August. The workshop proved successful for obtaining recommendations from the extramural and NIH training communities to be considered when developing future training programs.

The workshop recommendations include: developing training programs using NIH mechanisms that provide support, curriculum development, materials, methods development and assessment, and infrastructure; programs to support pre-undergraduate and undergraduate students, junior graduate student fellowships, and new faculty; training opportunities to address trans-disciplinary training and current academic environments; a one-year research training program for radiology residents and radiologists; support for multi-institutional and interdepartmental centers of training excellence; programs that interface clinical sciences, basic sciences, and industry; and support for short-term faculty and student training courses on high-tech and new instrumentation.


The NIBIB's challenge to provide new and collaborative ways to conduct and support research in the biomedical technologies area is paying huge dividends as evidenced by current science advances. Those dividends will continue to grow as the Institute looks to the future and identifies new areas of technology and discovery, innovative training programs that ensure a cadre of talented young researchers, and creative ways to collaborate both within and outside of NIH.

Donna J. Dean, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (

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