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MU Brain Imaging Center Offers State-of-the-Art Technology to Battle Neurological Disease

Mizzou celebrates dedication of the brain center

October 29th, 2009

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Neuroscience research can contribute to helpful treatment and detection for many widespread neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, autism and schizophrenia. Now, a new Brain Imaging Center at the University of Missouri offers state-of-the-art technology to advance studies in several scientific fields. Recently, the MU Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science celebrated the dedication of this center that is unique in mid-Missouri.

“The Brain Imaging Center is a neuroimaging research facility that allows us to propose and conduct neuroimaging research on a scale that has not been possible at the university,” said Shawn Christ, assistant professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. “This center will set MU apart from other universities that have restricted access to hospital equipment, such as MRIs, and will enhance the university’s faculty recruitment, grant funding and breakthrough research.”

According to Nelson Cowan, director of the center and Curators’ Professor of Psychological Sciences at MU, the magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or MRI, can produce images of the structure of the body as well as the brain. It also produces images representing neural activity during a mental activity, such as reading or arithmetic, and images of metabolic processes as they occur in specific parts of the body, such as food metabolism in the liver.

The cornerstone of the center is MRI technology, which allows researchers to collect behavioral data through pictures of the brain. Magnetic pulses within the MRI machine measure blood flow to the subject’s brain and other types of chemical processes that indicate the structure and function of brain cells. Following the scan, the machine produces an image of the activity. With the images, researchers can observe how the brain functions and the effects of various mental activities.

“The work being done points to the vast opportunities for the center and neuroscience research in the future,” Cowan said. “With this center, we’re hoping to make a major mark on the landscape of scientific research.” One recent grant proposal outlined the interest in MRI research at the center by more than 12 departments at MU and collaboration from researchers as far away as St. Louis. 

Researchers at the imaging center have been studying the activity of the brain for various diseases and conditions. Christ is working on a study to understand the nature of cognitive processes in children with autism. John Kerns, associate professor in the department of psychological sciences, is examining schizophrenic performance and how patients control their behavior.

“This center has allowed our department and the broader university research community to remain at the forefront of research on the diagnosis and study of the causes of neurocognitive disorders,” Christ said.

“Another part of what makes the center unique is the collaboration science researchers have with experts in other fields,” said Michael O’Brien, dean of the MU College of Arts and Science. One example is Brick Johnstone, professor in the department of health psychology, and Dan Cohen, professor in the department of religion, who are working together in the center to study the role of spirituality on brain function.

“Our research funding has continued to grow, despite tough economic times,” MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said. “With facilities such as the Brain Imaging Center, University of Missouri researchers have access to the best equipment to help them uncover the secrets of diseases that can affect millions of people. This is vital in our mission to improve the quality of life for Missourians and people throughout the country.”