Bioengineering professor Fan Lam receives NIBIB Trailblazer Award


Huan Song

Bioengineering professor Fan Lam has received a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Trailblazer R21 Award for his research on molecular imaging of the brain. This award is an opportunity for early-career investigators to explore highly innovative research projects of high interest to the NIBIB.

The primary goal of this research is to develop a new technology to enable simultaneous, high-resolution, whole-brain mapping of metabolites and neurotransmitters in clinically feasible time.

Metabolites and neurotransmitters can serve as potential biomarkers for neurological diseases such as epilepsy. "We aim to translate the proposed technology to study alterations in metabolites and neurotransmitters in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) patients with mesial temporal sclerosis (MTS)," Lam said.

Out of more than 3 million people who suffer from epilepsy in the US, the most common syndrome in adults is temporal lobe epilepsy which can often become a type known as mesial temporal sclerosis (MTS) - the degeneration of hippocampus in the temporal lobe of the brain. While some epilepsy symptoms can be managed with medication, others require surgical intervention. Currently, clinicians use EEG recordings and MRI imaging methods to identify the correct lateralization of the affected hippocampus noninvasively, but these methods can be challenging in that they have an inherent delay for diagnosis and not as effective as we hope in many cases.

“The tests show when the disease is advanced, and have difficulty in early detection,” said the study’s co-investigator Dr. Graham Huesmann, a neurologist from the Carle Foundation Hospital and a faculty member at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Lam and the team believe that quantifying biochemical changes across the brain through tracking metabolites and neurotransmitters will improve the localization of epileptogenic foci ahead of surgery. These biochemical changes can also help monitor the progression of the disease and assist with its management. Specifically, the team plans to use magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) to simultaneously map and quantify metabolites and neurotransmitters without exogenous contrast agents.

There are several fundamental technical challenges that the team needs to overcome to improve the currently very poor spatial resolution experiments with small brain coverages. However, the success of this research will create a powerful molecular neuroimaging tool that can impact the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of epilepsy and potentially other neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.