Kevin Parker Collaborating on a NIH Grant for Optical Coherence Tomography (OTC)

January 4, 2021

Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker, the William F. May Professor of Engineering and dean emeritus of engineering and applied sciences; Maiken Nedergaard, professor of neurology and neuroscience; and Jannick Rolland, the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering and director of the Center for Freeform Optics (also affiliated with the Materials Science Program), are collaborating on a $421,880 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant. They will use optical coherence tomography (OCT) elastography, a high-resolution imaging modality, to perform bio-mechanical measurements in mice, showing the variations in the softness and stiffness of brain tissue over time that are associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

All three of these researchers are pioneers in their respective fields. Kevin and his colleagues created the field of elastography, initially using ultrasound, to image the elastic properties of tissues. Jannick’s lab is not only at the forefront of freeform optics, but invented its own class of Gabor-domain OCT. And Maiken documented, for the first time, the glial waste removal system of the brain and how obstructions to that process may be linked to Alzheimer’s. They are joined by Gary Ge who is an M.D./ Ph.D. student and will incorporate this work into his thesis.

The thickness of the human skull, and the large size of the human brain has made it difficult to image changes in the mechanical properties of brain tissue associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases in live human patients. That will not be a problem with the much smaller mouse models of brains in normal, aging and disease states in Maiken’s lab. The detailed images that can be obtained with OCT will help inform the basic science underlying these changes in brain tissue, create useful biomarkers, and guide future clinical measurements in humans.

Though OCT imaging of the brain, in the near future, won’t be routine for humans, the insights gained from imaging mouse models will provide insights that can help guide clinical research being done here and elsewhere on developing other, emerging modalities–such as magnetic resonance elastography—for detecting and tracking these disorders in the human brain, Kevin says.